I create by translating Old Master paintings into a contemporary pictorial language. Using an idiom of energetic gestural abstraction, I mine art historical imagery for color and narrative structure. I use abstraction to interrupt representational content in order to excavate and transform meanings and messages embedded in the works from which my paintings spring. I examine the impact of authorial agency and address the myriad subtle ways the gender, identity and belief systems of the artist are reflected in the art.
I begin with a series of small improvisational studies. Allowing the constant discovery of one state to give rise to another, I use the small studies as points of departure for larger works. The large paintings embrace the choreography of the small works with an increased emphasis on color and gestural expression. Color is the protagonist; it creates a link between my paintings and the historical artworks from which they spring. Gesture breathes life into the paintings. Spontaneity, instinct and intuition eclipse rational, linear thinking during the process of making the small paintings. The large paintings, however, are more considered. The process of transcription and enlargement involves exploring the balance between abandon and constraint, intuition and intellect, accident and design.
My work challenges monocular thinking. Old Master paintings were, for the most part, created by men for men. Abstraction allows me to interrupt this one sided narrative and transform it into sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view. Abstraction metamorphoses the meaning of the works from which my paintings spring. If the Old Master paintings are pictorial, I try to make my paintings non-pictorial. I shift the focus from narrative content to the brushstrokes themselves, and to the specific material characteristics of the media I work in.
I’ve spent the last decade looking at art history through a female lens, countering or adding to a male perspective, overturning narratives of violence and voyeurism, rendering subjectivity in the feminine. More recently I have begun to examine works created by female Old Masters, or “Old Mistresses” as they were famously called by Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker. I am energized by the opportunity to align myself with female artists from another time, another place; to draw strength and inspiration from their accomplishments, and to extend the conversation they began.
To be clear, my collages and paintings are not critiques of the Old Masters but rather a use of their depth and resonance to shine a light on imbalances existent today. In this, the Old Masters are my powerful allies. Painting is an ongoing process of never arriving, a goal without an end. New ideas emerge from preceding paintings and new paths open up. My intention is not only to make original work and deepen my own appreciation of Old Master painting but also to bring this work into focus for other people, to enliven and reinvent old mastermistresspieces in the context of contemporary life and culture. I think this idea is best expressed in a brief quote from Robert Storr: "One of the ways that historical art stays fresh is because of what is done by contemporary artists that bring it to mind. One of the ways that contemporary work finds root is by being seen in the context of historical precedents that give it an extra kind of resonance."
The joy of creative action transcends the linear construct of time and resolves the illusive duality of apparent opposites. My work celebrates the exhilarating thrill of finding new sources in art, in nature and in oneself, of hybridizing past and present, exterior and interior, subject and object.
[Elise Ansel, Artist Statement]