Elyse, can you share a bit about yourself? Where you’re from, your background, what you’ve been up to in the past few years before coming to Arrowmont?
I grew up in Saint Cloud, Minnesota with a few years stint living in Israel with my family. My father is a medical engineer and has always been an important influence; until my sophomore year of college, I was convinced I would one day be a neurosurgeon. College helped me realized my true calling and in 2011 I graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, with a BA in Studio Art. I’ve always been a bit of a jack of all trades, “focusing” in drawing, painting, printmaking, and ceramics during college. After graduation, I utilized my love for mixed media as the manager of The Fire, an interactive DIY art studio in Appleton. In 2014 I had an epiphany; I quit my job and went off to Penland to black smith for a couple months, this was the start of my career as a full- time artist. Since then I have been home based in Appleton; participating in the local art scene (projects with Goodwill Industries of WI and a big mural commission through the Appleton and Kaukauna Chambers of Commerce,etc.), showing my work nationally, and I have been awarded a few artist residencies ( 2015 Holden Village in Chelan WA, 2016 Elsewhere Studios in Paonia CO, 2016 Charles Adams Studio Project in Lubbock Texas.) And now I am at Arrowmont.
And the work that you make? What’s your elevator pitch or your work in a nutshell?
I am a mixed media illustrator, I make both 2D and 3D work ranging from drawings and tapestries to papier-mâché sculpture and performance pieces. Drawing is at the core of my practice.
I am hyper aware of human imminence; I deal with my fleeting existence by confronting my mortality and I actively attempt to preserve both my conscious and subconscious selves. I utilize art and craft techniques from my childhood, meditative processes and illustrated narratives to try and understand, defy, and find peace with death by creating personal mythology, doctrines, and imaginary worlds. Essentially, my artworks are time capsules; ensuring that myth, legend, and truth from my life and the lives of those in my life continue to live on far into the future. Additionally, death is a taboo topic especially in Western culture, so I look to a variety of religious, cultural, and scientific perspectives on living, dying, and the afterlife to inform and enlighten my own beliefs and those of my viewers.
Can we discuss the details of these illustrated narratives a bit? In much of your work there seem to be recurring characters, sometimes even blending human and animal bodies. Can you explain this system of character roles that you’ve created to navigate these pictorial stories?
As a child, much of my play was “make-believe”. I would spend hours creating environments, dressing up, constructing cardboard props, and fantasizing over alternate realities. In an attempt to preserve a sense of my childhood self, I have held on dearly to this idea of unhindered imagination. As we grow older we become more aware of what others think of us and are more guarded in our thoughts and actions. Luckily I am still a compulsive daydreamer, and by approaching my work with the imagination of a child I can pass through the constructed barriers of adulthood to more freely explore other realities. I’m not fulfilled by seeing something or thinking of something just as it is. I believe that there is much more to a person or thing than what’s real and right in front of us. I confront reality in order to distort it and embellish it with fantastical elements.
Over the years I have realized that I have 4 personalities or identities, they are born out of necessity, filling spaces that my actual self shys away from. Subconsciously each personality reveals itself in a narrative and then continues to make its way into my conscious and eventually series of artworks (either literally or just in essence). Each serves a specific purpose in my daily and artistic life.
The Self, or present me is depicted in my artwork as a blonde-haired girl with a braid. She is most often young, curious, but a little withdrawn. The Self’s presence is less prevalent in my work because sometimes the hardest person to face is mortal, actual, me. I can be so consumed by the past, present, and future that I can think better when I step outside of myself.
The Other is a black-haired, sometimes faceless character represents my past and future selves as well as people who may have inspired the narrative. The Other is androgynous, leaving room for the viewer to insert themselves or someone they know into the character.
Bird Person has the face of a human but the shell of a bird. This character represents the part of me that doesn’t want to grow up or age. This personality enjoys make-believe, fantastical ideas, and instigates trips into unreality. Bird Person playfully looks for ways to merge reality with unreality and to bring life and physicality to the fantastical characters and world that live in my head.
And last but not least is my alter ego Birdman who has the head of a bird and the body of a man. Like a bird he can soar to the heavens, float on water, and burrow underground. He moves between this world and the otherworld, he is strong, resilient, and morally sound. He is my higher power and ideal self. I look up to Birdman to tackle questions and fears about life and death and I often assume a birdman personality, either mentally or physically, when diving into a piece of work.
How would you describe your experience so far at Arrowmont? Which of these identities would you say best describes you here now at this point in the residency?
I feel grateful to be at Arrowmont, it is definitely a surreal experience, I am often convinced I’m just dreaming this all up. In many ways, this residency is a boot camp (a really nice one), instilling in an artist all of the skills necessary to succeed in the professional sphere. I feel empowered here, like I am an integral part of something really special. Being at Arrowmont has brought me back a bit into The Self, it’s important to be more present in a close-knit community like this. Sometimes you’ve gotta return to reality so you can head back to unreality with fresh perspective. Although the Self may be more prevalent right now, I’m harnessing the energies of all my identities in order to make new works for the upcoming final AIR exhibit in March.
What brought you to Arrowmont? What does this opportunity mean to you as an artist and how do you feel this experience has aided you in your goals?
I first came to Arrowmont in the Fall of 2014 as a Work Study. I had heard about the opportunity while I was blacksmithing at Penland the preceding Spring. After my work study experience I went off into the world to build my career as an artist and participate in artist residencies, I always kept a little piece of Arrowmont in my heart. During the Fall of 2016, while I was an AIR at the Charles Adams Studio Project, a few friends of mine urged me to apply to Arrowmont’s AIR program. And through a whirlwind of luck, fate, and divine intervention; here I am.
Arrowmont is a paramount stepping stone along my path as a full time artist and being here means I am making progress in the right direction. When the worries of artist life infiltrate my mind, I remember that I was chosen to be here at Arrowmont and that this residency is not only a privilege but also a huge compliment.
I want to keep climbing the art and craft world ladder and being an AIR at Arrowmont means I am becoming a better artist and person. This is also a humbling experience because I am faced with the reality of all of the skills and hard work necessary to be an effective member of the art and craft community. I will leave Arrowmont equipped with a toolbelt that will help me better navigate my studio practice, professional obligations, and even the social realm.
One of my favorite aspects of this residency is that it is far more than just time to make art. Arrowmont requires the AIRs to work 440 hours during our residency, helping in the studios, galleries, with marketing, development, programming, etc. Essentially my CV is being beefed up with special skill sets that will help me to better navigate my own professional practice but will also make me a more eligible and desirable candidate for future residencies and jobs. Arrowmont is a hub for a diverse demographic of professional artists, providing the optimum networking experience and open door for invites to universities and art centers to give lectures, have shows, and build long lasting relationships. Arrowmont wants us to succeed and puts a lot of efforts into providing the resources to do so.