On the occasion of our exhibition Elana Bowsher, Vicente Matte, Gabriel Mills (June 2–July 14, 2021) , we spoke with the artists about their work.
Elana Bowsher, Collage E, 2021 oil on linen 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm.).
Los Angeles-based Elana Bowsher paints graphic iconography inside glowing outlines and comic-book-esque scenes, activating feminine abundance in her contemporary pop paintings.
Q: What does your process for composing the paintings in your Collage series look like, especially in relation to the Collage title?
A: I make tons of drawings. Then I use a digital projector to crop and fragment these images from my sketchbook. I collage together different bits and pieces of several drawings to make a new one. The final painting is less straightforward, and that’s more interesting to me.
Q: In your paintings, you boldly embrace a feminine aesthetic, rendering graceful gestures, juicy fruits, and fashionable clothing and accessories. What about your feminine style inspires you? What do you hope the female abundance in your paintings will communicate with the viewer?
A: Fruits, female figures and nudes are part of art history, so I borrow from there. Also, I was a serious ballet dancer growing up, so grace, lines, and gestures are still part of how I see and interact with the world. That’s probably how these elements have made it into my painting.
Q: When looking at your Collages A and B side by side, they seem to be related. The periwinkle triangle on the lower-left register of Collage A appears to extend into the similarly-colored sleeve in Collage B. Also, the same figure reclining in Collage A is reflected in a hand mirror in Collage B. How do you imagine this environment, and how do they relate to each other?
A: Actually, the two blues are different in each painting if you look closely. But yes, the two paintings are related. Even though this is a three-person show, I was thinking about installation while making these paintings. If the two are next to each other, they might tell a different story than if they were separated. Maybe the woman in the mirror in Collage B is a reflection of the woman in Collage A. I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide what’s happening…
Q: Since your studio is right next to your home, what does a typical painting day look like for you? How does this proximity affect your resulting paintings?
A: I start the day early. I walk to drop my daughter off at school and then go back to my studio. Most of the day I am at my studio, working. My children usually come to show me something or to accompany me while they draw. And I go home at night.
Working in the same place where you live makes the few possible borders between life and art disappear definitively. Perhaps the greatest effect this proximity has is concentration; I live every day immersed in work and domestic things. My wife is an artist too, so together we build this world of our own.
Vicente Matte in the studio, Santiago, Chile, 2021.
Vicente Matte, In the Studio, 2020, distemper on canvas, 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. (40 x 50 cm.)
Q: You have stated: “The works that are part of this show […] are just persistent attempts to transform the complicity of the familiar into material for the construction of metaphors that deal with universal questions.” Could you share what some of the universal questions you have in mind are?
A: There are some ideas that are repeated over and over again. I often think of the irrevocable passing of time; in the intensity of being alive, despite the fact that our life is no more than an instant in the immensity of time. That is why, perhaps, I am interested in everyday scenes.
In the painting I and Thou, for example, I wanted to paint a supernatural figure in the middle of the city, participating in the everyday world. It was a way of thinking about how the contemporary human being is in conversation with the world that surrounds them.
And the painting Narcissus is more than anything a question. How relevant is the ancient Greek myth in today’s society?
Q: Often in your paintings, doorways open to reveal a figure, as in Blue Night, Calle Maria Monvel, and In the Studio. What is the function of these doorways?
A: It really interests me when a painting brings together different scenes and connects different temporal spaces. I think that those doorways that usually appear in my paintings have that function, to connect two different events and moments and present them simultaneously in order to expand the narrative possibilities of the painting.
Gabriel Mills’s paintings of sneakers and his triptychs of romanticized prosaic scenes implicate his presence while leaving ambiguities to question the “complexities of existence,” in the artist’s own words.
Q: The subjects of your paintings in this show often reside in the shadows, obscured from full view. What role does this light play in your work?
A: Light allows us to see, light is the protagonist in the story of painting. Consider the question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Limits in perception enable an overlook of what isn’t tactile or takes up a solid recognizable form. The glass is totally full, with half water, and half air. The air is equally as vital as the water.
Light exists in conjunction with shadow, both contain a spectrum of possibility. I am emphatic on its possibility in these works, where shadow may be perceived as void or empty, it is filled with presence. Love and abundance are available in that space in its own terms.
Gabriel Mills, How To Love, 2020, oil on wood panel (triptych), 24 x 54 in. (61 x 137.2 cm.).
Q: Can you tell us about the phrases written on the edges of your Love Can Last Forever series, such as “NEVER A MAN LIKE ME,” “A KID LIKE YOU,” “SYMPATHIES FOR THE STRAWBERRY,” and “MAY ON AISE”?
A: Each mark records a thought, and each thought records a mark. Both of which affirm my being. I venture into varying levels of touch and sensitivity with material throughout my painting practice. Love Can Last Forever is created with softer edges and a more compressed value range than other works. The text is written with a harsher touch than how this painting is created. They are equally authentically an extension of myself. MAY ON AISE phonetically is my own eyes, it is a reflection on reality. The phrases were written contemplating eternal life, perception.
Q: In speaking about your triptychs, you said they are “a reflection on love, ephemerality, and one’s place within the non-linear continuous present, within the story of the world.” Yet, the consecutive scenes are portrayed in a linear fashion. How do you decide which environment to depict in each panel? Can you tell us more about the representation of time within your triptychs?
A: I’ve often said time ain’t real. It is intangible, cold, much like the icebergs and glaciers, it does not care for human consciousness. “Life is moving too fast” “I can’t believe it’s almost a quarter into the century” You’ve heard this before right? I came to terms with time being the constant. I am the variable. Time isn’t moving fast, that’s me.
Synchronicity with the present is a high life priority. I was experiencing dissonance in that ambition. The triptychs began as intense meditations of the present. Each panel is fragmented from each other to consider the parts to the whole. The montage effect subverts fixivity to what is happening, creating space to find awareness. Painting at its core holds time, which has fascinated me the moment I began painting.