A little while ago, I had the pleasure of commissioning a work of art. Why it was necessary…well we won’t get into that. But I needed a practically life-size baby sky bison (as in, the six-legged flying bovines from the Avatar the Last Airbender cartoon). In doing so, I had the pleasure to work with Elizabeth Goldring, a young artist just starting in the business. Working with her, I thought it might be interesting to do an interview with her and get a visual artist’s perspective on some interesting questions:
1. As a new artist breaking into the field, how would you describe your work?
I like to make work that is subtle yet striking. I enjoy the idea of creating a beautiful object, be it a drawing or a sculpture, that has a quiet strength. The imagery that I use tends to be unusual or unsettling but not shocking or loud. I draw on nature, mostly plants and animals, though sometimes the figure as well. I like to do a lot of different things. I think one of my biggest issues is that I have so much I want to do but only 2 hands and 24 hours in a day.
2. What do you think has had the greatest impact on your work? How do those influences affect the work you do on commission versus the work you do for yourself?
I would say that my own experiences have had the greatest impact on my work. My personal pieces tend to be heavily autobiographical though not necessarily in the conventional sense. It’s really in regard to the emotional content, not so much the subjects themselves. The pieces tend to require a lot of repetitive almost meditative actions and in that kind of mindset I end up imbuing the pieces with emotion as opposed to concept.
Commissions are always going to differ from the personal simply because I am producing something to please someone else as opposed to myself. Then there is the difference between commissions that are someone else’s concept that require approval from the buyer versus commissions where I am essentially given free reign. Even in those situations though, I still enjoy the process and I like to think that the work still has my mark.
3. Aspiring writers are usually told to read, read, read. Is there some similar advice for aspiring visual artists? What kind of value does it provide?
The usual advice is know your predecessors as well as your contemporaries, so its a combination of look look look and read read read. It’s important to know where you come from artistically, to know your influences. The past can inspire you in a lot of ways, whether it’s finding something in it that you admire or coming across something that shows what you don’t want to do. Art comes from Art, it does not exist in a vacuum.
4. When working on a piece, what’s your process like? How do you set the priorities for your work in general or for a particular piece?
My process varies depending on what I am working on. Drawings tend to be a little bit more organic while sculptures require more planning because of materials tests and mockups. Drawings still require some planning, but that’s usually just some loose sketches to get a feel for proportions and to try different compositions. Once the initial tests and sketches are done I try to just sit down and work for as long as I can. Sometimes I can work for 8 hours or so only stopping to eat or stretch, other times I can only focus for an hour. Even if I feel like I can keep working after a long sitting I try to walk away from it for a little while so I can come back to it with a fresh eye and see what needs changing. It can also be difficult to know when something is “Done;” walking away is key here so that the piece doesn’t get over worked. There is always more that can be done but there is not always more that should be done and some time away from the work helps in that decision. The finished piece is important to me, but honestly I tend to get lost in what I am doing. I really enjoy the process, it makes me feel calm in a way that few other activities do.
5. How do those priorities translate into your broader opinions on art and its role/function in society?
I was once told by a professor that making art is the most self indulgent thing a person can do with their life. I think that sums up how I feel about making art fairly well. I will admit, as an artist I am fairly selfish. I love what I do but I do it for me, I have no grandiose ideas about my work changing the world or the face of art or anything like that. I am not attempting to raise political or social awareness or make a “statement”. These are the functions generally associated with art and its purpose, and these are completely valid for some artists, but not really for me. I take a much more hermetic approach to what I do, it is about making things that I think are beautiful and convey the emotions that I need them to. If other people can connect with it on a similar level, then that is a really successful piece, but at the end of the day I am the one who has to be square with what I have created. Again, a lot of this is about the act of doing for me so it is difficult for me to think about their function outside of that. In an ideal world the person who looks at the piece finds something in it akin to what I felt while making it. For some art is a vehicle for some greater message or statement. For others its not.
6. Is there a divide between the “fine arts” and “illustration”? If so, where does that divide come from? Should it exist? And which side of it do you fall on?
There is a definite division between fine arts and illustration, though not as much in recent years. The division usually comes from the idea that fine artists decide what they will make and how they will make it, with only themselves and their intentions in mind. Illustrators have traditionally been seen in a commercial light; usually they are a way of realizing someone else’s vision. There are many illustrators being featured in fine art galleries now, and there is more acceptance of them than there was though I still hear the term “illustration” used as a derogatory term towards drawings. I think the difference really comes from the intention of the work. It’s all a gray area that is open to a lot of debate.
7. For writing, I’ve always believed that technique/craft is one half of what makes great art. Is it the same for the visual arts? And do all visual artists feel that way, or just you?
Personally I think technique is definitely a large part of a successful piece, this holds true for some artists and not others. For some people the concept is the entire point and execution is merely a formality. In the conceptual art movement of the 60s it got taken so far that some artists thought it was enough to come up with the idea or instructions and that it wasn’t even necessary to bring it into physical being. That approach: not for me.
8. Many writers say that the art of writing is the art of re-writing. Does your work go through any kind of editing or revision? How does (or doesn’t) that work?
I think the revision process is a huge part of art making. I do a lot of revisions and editing during the preliminary sketches; that is part of the entire reason to do them. They are like a rough draft. Just as in writing, it’s about trimming things down or adding things in. Revisions can vary in difficulty from piece to piece depending on the materials. A graphite drawing is easier to revise than ink, a clay sculpture is easier to revise than stone etc.
9. Can you tell us anything about the stuff you’re working on now? Or where can we see any of your work?
At the moment I am working on a series of drawings as well as some sculptures. The basic premise is documenting strange and anomalous occurrences in nature. Specifically plants and animals. It plays off the human tendency towards anthropomorphizing the world around us and our capacity to love what also repels us.
I am currently part of a show at the Visual Arts Gallery in New York City (601 West 26 Street, 15th Floor, New York, New York) that will run through February 15, 2011. I also have a blog where people can see my past and current work until I compose a more formal website: http://egfineart.blogspot.com/
So with great thanks to Elizabeth and her insightful answers, I think the best way to sign off is to show the results of my own commissioned piece. Here’s Baby Appa, relaxing in front of the fireplace (I apologize for being a lousy photographer – the picture doesn’t really do justice):