In The Studio: Pairings with Eric Elliott

Eric Elliott's fourth solo exhibit at James Harris Gallery, called Pairings, shows a body of work getting much muckier. And the muck is getting more colorful. Paint, slowly and painstakingly built up in daubs, nearly curls off the canvas like calcified petals, resembling the flora with which he is obsessed. (His botanical illustrations fill notebooks scattered around his studio; dried bouquets languish in vases.) Elliott’s fascination with rendering the representational abstract is consistently apparent in his work: the subject of his paintings is sometimes legible, sometimes it spastically dissolves. Pairings takes this study of abstraction to a dialogic place. As per the title, Pairings displays paintings side-by-side as diptychs and triptychs, situating identical or related subjects next to one another. Yet each is executed with different approaches to material and mark making that evolve as part of the ongoing painting process. - Amanda Manitach, Seattle Contributor

Eric Elliott

Amanda Manitach: Jen Graves mentioned Pairings the other day and called you a sober artist. She was comparing your paintings to Jay DeFeo's Rose. She quoted John Perreault: ‘How can you not love an artist who in 1959 would allow herself to be photographed by the neo-kabbalist Wallace Berman naked in front of The Rose with arms and legs stretched out in the da Vinci pose?’ Eric Elliott...doesn't perform the romantic role of the artist. He paints, soberly." Yet I do think of you as a bit romantic. Oil painting is romantic. Not of this century, yet—

Eric Elliott: It's always a challenge to push the bounds of painting, do something that seems new and raw, despite the antiquity of the tradition. Creating space on a surface that's so flat is a challenge I love, manipulating the perception of depth. A basic fascination with mark making has always been the basis of my work.

AM: Why pairings?

EE: For this exhibit we decided to do a show about the dialogue between paintings. Experiments in relationships. Once I understand two paintings are paired together, I work on them simultaneously and the mark making of one responds to that of the other. Doing a painting and doing a painting from a painting—or doing two paintings that aren't just reacting to a still life but are reacting to each other—opens up a third conversation that I find interesting.

Eric Elliott | (left) Photinia with Green Background, 2012, oil on linen, 30 x 24 inches; (right) Sunlight, 2012, oil and spray painting on panel, 16 x 12 inches. Images courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

AM: Seeing the sequential dissolution makes me think of the degeneration of Monet's bridge paintings.

EE: I love his work based on different times of the day, but it's not how I think of this series. I'm interested in marks and forms dissolving into ground. Which starts observationally, but the end product is pretty distant from observational painting. When you paint something observationally you really have to care about it, and I care much less about the subjects I’m painting than I care about the paint. The mark.

AM: Ever considered stained glass?

EE: Not stained glass, but I've thought about working in mosaic or tapestry.

Eric Elliott | Obfuscated Window, 2012, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

AM: Do you find yourself emotionally affected by working with brighter colors?

EE: Not really. When I was doing the greys, I really saw the subtle color between greys. I thought there was so much color in them. But you have to sit with them longer to see the color. Most people won't sit in front of a painting long enough for their eyes to adjust to the colors in front of them. Each painting, whether it's dark or light or bright, takes your eyes time to adjust to what you're seeing. You turn to the next painting and it's a totally different thing. It takes that much time all over again.

AM: The viewing is a durational process.

EE: I should begin titling my pieces based on how long it takes your eyes to adjust to the color.

Eric Elliott | (left) Window Light 1, 2012, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches; (right) Window Light 2, 2012, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Images courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

AM: On the record: romantic/not romantic?

EE: I would say I'm romantic in the sense of living the idealist dream that I can make it as an artist. I think that's a pretty romantic notion. As far as artists go, I think I might be pretty mellow—

AM: "Sober" is what she said.

Elliott’s studio.

EE: Responsible maybe?

AM: As in not letting me take your photograph naked in front of a painting.

EE: Ha, yes! I come to the studio and—if I didn't have to teach—I would come in every day and paint for eight hours, Monday through Friday, take the weekends off. I don't take months off. I wouldn't know what to do. I always paint. If I don't, the ideas pile up and I can't get beyond them. I have to try every idea out to see if it succeeds or not, then move on.

Eric Elliott | Dissolving Studio, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

AM: Do you drink when you paint?

EE: No.

AM: Coffee.

EE: No.

AM: What's your vice? You really are just a hardworking painter.

EE: Painting's my vice.

AM: That’s romantic.

EE: As opposed to getting an extra-responsible job with a retirement plan and health insurance, not to mention the toxic cadmium. Yeah.


Eric Elliott: Pairings is on view at James Harris Gallery through February 16, 2013.

Eric Elliott is a Seattle based painter. He received an MFA in Painting and Drawing in 2007 at the University of Washington and a BA in Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley in 2003. Elliott was the 2009 winner of the Behnke Foundation’s Neddy Artist Fellowship, he received a 2011 & 2009 4Culture Artist Project Award, a 2008 Artist Trust GAP Grant and the 2008 Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award. Elliott is represented by James Harris Gallery and Prographica Gallery in Seattle and currently teaches at Highline Community College and Gage Academy of Art.

Amanda Manitach is an artist, writer and curator based in Seattle.

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