A recent transplant to NC, artist Elizabeth Alexander amazes us with her sundry array of simple materials that she then complicates and manipulates into completely different objects altogether. She seems to express the challenging thoughts and feelings that we have about being a woman in popular culture in a way that is at once both elegant and chaotic. The works are a mystery when seen from far away, just texture and color, drawing the viewer closer in to see what they are made of and how they are made. On the way, one will find symbols and references leading to a deeper inspection of the (female) human experience.
HCLT: Describe yourself in three words?
EA: Industrious, intense, ridiculous
HCLT: Who or what inspires you artistically?
EA: I am incredibly inspired by my husband, who is currently getting his masters degree in library science and is a brilliant musician, sound artist, thinker, and cook. We collaborate when we can, including his custom sound pieces in my installations, and those are often my favorite works. My siblings and parents have all been great supporters and sources of inspiration for me. Both my parents are young and I grew up watching my dad build his steel fabrication business and my mom become a full time artist and educator, I am very aware of how much of my way of thinking and attitude towards hard work comes directly from that upbringing. I have been fortunate enough to call some really brilliant people my friends and peers as well.
Most things I come across seem to have a way of affecting my work; questions and critiques I have about adult life are a huge driving force, as well as the unstructured play and arranging of objects and material that happens in my studio.
My work is informed by everything from my own anxieties and daily curiosities to classic Disney princess movies. I feel like all art is fed by the life experiences of the artist and I constantly see things show up in my work from my past; gardening, welding, reading, music I love, films I watch repeatedly, conversations I have had with students, day-dreams, nightmares; it is all in there. It is very important to me and my work that I keep learning and experiencing new things, when I am not learning something or trying a new idea with a piece I can see my disengagement in the work.
I also look at art as much as I can, I go to museums and galleries, rock shows, dance, films, theater, and most importantly the works of close fiends and admired peers. Equally essential as visual art that I look at are other pop culture and arts I consume daily: Grey Gardens, BBC specials like Upstairs Downstairs and Keeping Up Appearances, Audrey Hepburn Movies, Patti Smith, burlesque shows, drag shows, cooking shows, Margaret Atwood’s books, Cocteau’s films, Bob Dylan, riot grrrls, etc..
I often read about historical figures, strong women and the history of female rights. I take walks and observe how things grow and change over time, how a storm feels, I look for beauty and irony and absurdity and put all of this into my work. I believe observation and exploration are as much the duty and compulsion of an artist as the work created.
HCLT: When did you realize you were an artist?
EA: I think I always knew deep down. I remember my stock answer for what I wanted to be when I grew up was first a geologist and second an artist (as a back up plan I suppose). So no matter which path, I had a need to observe and experiment and process things around me.
HCLT: Where can we see your work?
EA: Currently I have a solo show up at Hodges Taylor’s new space at 118 East Kingston Avenue, I also have a piece in the State of the Art exhibition at the Mint Museum Uptown, and lastly I have a new wallpaper installation at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH in the show Deep Cuts: Contemporary Paper Cutting. You can also always find images and upcoming shows at elizabethalexanderstudio.com.
HCLT: Tell us about your current body of work?
EA: I always have several bodies of work going at once. One is a series called: Costume for the Day, an ongoing exploration of altered party dresses where the pattern removed from the garments is assembled into coordinating headpieces, both exposing and concealing the wearer. The title is an excerpt from Little Edith Beale’s monologue about her outfit in Grey Gardens.
I am also working on more elaborate assemblages and cast paper domestic objects for a few upcoming installations. Right now I feel very drawn to over the top bathrooms and bathhouses, but I am still in the very early stages of that work.
The constant in my work is my reorganizing the language of daily life. Conceptually I am tapping into the anxieties and absurdities associated with extreme perfectionism combined with societal pressures, but I see a lot of other influences entering the periphery of my work. In a way I am using the exploratory methods used by scientists and children to understand what bemuses me and to take joy in the quest. I take things apart and hypothesize about new ways of seeing those things. I ask unanswerable questions and combine that with observations and experiences I have had. And, above all, I make things. I work with my hands and learn really specific things about materials and objects that are typically found in the background. I am learning through my hands.
HCLT: What do you think is the most valuable art experience in the Carolinas?
EA: I haven’t had many yet, but my relationship with this place started with a paper sculpture class I taught at Penland in 2014; I think that is one of the most valuable art experiences I have ever had.
I am slowly getting to know about the different arts niches around the state and the rich history here, it is pretty remarkable.
HCLT: What book is on your nightstand right now?
EA: I never have just one; currently I have Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, Making is Connecting by David Gauntlett, and The Elephant Vanishes a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami.
HCLT: Best meal in the Charlotte area?
EA: As a recent transplant (to Winston-Salem) from the Boston area, I have not had more than a couple of lunches in Charlotte so far. Although, I had a nice sandwich at Rhino Market and Deli a little while back, plus I was able to stock up on some good beer to take home while I was there.
HCLT: What is up next?
EA: I am currently fixing up my basement studio (I have many expansion plans for that) and soon I will start an installation to go up at SECCA in Winston Salem this January for the featured 12 x 12 exhibit showcasing 12 artists from the 12th state. I am collecting materials for an installation using cut tiles, wallpaper, cast paper, and lighting fixtures, but only time will tell where it will really go.