Saturday, November 12, 2011


Change Street, 2009, oil on canvas, papier mache, aluminum, and cardboard,
17 x 14 x 2 inches

Triangle Piece, 2008, bamboo, plastic, papier mache, paint, and fabric, 46 x 17 x 20 inches

Overlook Mtn., 2007, rearview mirror, duct tape, tile, papier mache, plaster, and acrylic on canvas, 12 x 18.5 x 3 inches

Successive Selves Diodes, 2009, plaster, bamboo, steel, copper, plastic, cigarettes, cardboard,  wax, papier mache, acrylic paint, etc., 
47 x 26 x 100 inches
Fan II, 2009, acrylic on file folder paper, 11 x 18.5 inches

Sham, 2007, oil, wood, and papier mache, 27 x 25 x 5 inches

Elisa Lendvay is one of those artists who are pushing the boundaries of painting and sculpture, blurring any sort of distinction between the two—and doing it well.  The scope of her work is wide, covering issues of placement (both on walls, and on the floor), color, composition, the incorporation of disparate materials, and exquisite drawings.  Choosing just a few images for this write-up proved difficult because so many of her works are so interesting; interesting not for just how they’re done, but more importantly, for the narrative that they’re imbued with and hint at.
The works in the Uprights series are a formal/informal exercise in verticality. They bring to mind tools used in measuring and documenting—the tripods that hold surveyors equipment and cameras, etc., and are almost always coated with pigment of some sort.  Her paintings tend to be overtly 3d, with papier mache inclusions that expand outward to supplement the limitations of the picture plane.  There’s an interconnectedness between all of Lendvay’s work; a grander narrative that’s in the air between them because of how well she’s worked out the material aspects.  The following interview sheds just a bit of light on what’s going on in her work.

PB:  What impulse pushes you to work in a way that results in those things commonly referred to as painting and sculpture; do you see the two ways of working as distinct, or one and the same?

EL: Well, the impulse is to visualize thoughts and forms in ways that offer different ways of seeing and relating to the body and perception. Sometimes it should be in the compressed picture plane, or extending out of the wall’s space, or in full physicality in the upright. I’m interested in rendering movement and a sort of energy in different ways of working and thinking with the hands. I don’t often differentiate between painting and sculpture. But then, I am also interested in each as distinct ways of working. They are totally different ways of working and yet they present many of the same problems. 

When I apply paint to a sculpture though it is often different than when I apply it to a 2D surface. I feel like when I paint a sculpture black, it has more intense physical associations and drama to it than the black of canvas. Then there is painting to accentuate the form or make pattern from the form by outlining and elaborating on the lines, corners and curves of the form within its parameters – that sometimes does the trick. I’ve realized over the years how well Dubuffet did that with his larger sculptures.  I’m often interested in the intrinsic colors of materials or specific objects I use. In that case, nothing is applied. If I want color that is not in the material and not applied I mix pigments or rust, etc, into the material before it hardens like in hydrocal or papier machie so that it is innately in the piece.

I had an early interest in sculpture as a student because I was drawn to the possibilities. It seemed like the place where I could most experiment with materiality and do whatever I wanted. However, early on it started as a way of structuring more of a painting with shapes or found forms that compartmentalized colors.

PB:  Who do you view as seminal figures in art history that you draw influence from and what is it about their work that really impacted you?

EL:  There are many whose work has impacted me. I’ll try not to list everything here. Of course when I’m in the studio, I’m not trying to think about that directly. Myron Stout for his simple forms as symbols. Cubism and early Modernism, i.e. Picasso Sculptures, Braque, Duchamp, The Vorticists, Arshile Gorky, long amazed by the portrait he did with his mother and his use of color and shapes defined by brushstrokes.

There were a few pieces in my teens that I saw at the Dallas Museum of Art that were formative. Claus Oldenberg’s Stake Hitch and Rauschenberg’s Skyway. They also had a nice Lee Bontecou which I thought was the perfect wall sculpture and with a void like the eye of the storm.

I learned how to weld in high school and we had access to a great scrap yard. I also looked at books on sculpture, you know, the “plastic arts”, that spanned a limited period, the 30s – 60s. I loved Naum Gabo’s work (and his name) and his use of line and transparency and David Smiths’s approach to monumental metal sculpture. I saw how he ground the scrap metal down to show the gleaming metal. I emulated both and others. I would make wall pieces using scrap metal from factories with patterns of cutouts, grind the rust to reveal the sparkle and put a painted surface behind it. I was always interested in conveying this unknown space behind.

Growing up Catholic in Dallas, Texas got me interested in ritual, sacred space and architecture and history beyond my surroundings. That led me to an interest in medieval art, cathedrals, and seeing everything I should see in Italy. Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa and those rays, and Apollo and Daphne, the movement and transformations and the translucency of the leaves of the marble have always inspired me.

Art Deco design, Dagobert Pesche, Pompeian art and artifacts -- My parents had a catalog of a Pompeian art exhibition. I was drawn to it intensely as a child for the tragedy and mystery: a quiet, sunny day in an ancient Roman town and a volcano unexpectedly erupts covering ash over a village, burying it and the people and animals yet preserving the painting and way of life for people to find later.  I was fascinated that the shapes of the huddled bodies were preserved and later that negative space was filled in with plaster of paris by archeologists and these ancient humans, dogs, pigs, etc. at death’s door were revealed as ultimate sculptures, like fossils. We see people’s last moments but along with that these rich paintings and mosaics that depict mythology, feast and eroticism. That Pompeian red, the clothing and jewelry, and the paintings that depict architectural spaces were beauty ideals for me, with a tainted sense of fatality.

When it comes to the necessity for depicting as a contemplative act I am always inspired by the artists of prehistoric cave painting and the beautiful, often simple gestural line quality. It’s kind of the most perfect essential art.

PB:  What sources inform your narrative and can you elaborate on the various aspects of it?

EL:  I think more in terms of instantaneous perception in the work I’ve been doing. I have been thinking about place and how it informs me - being present where I am, the specific landscape, the city. I take walks and try to tap into or out of the energy of a place – people watch or to be in nature, walk barefoot in a creek bed. It feeds me. I feel connected to a charged space of making. I often pick up artifacts along the way, as fragments of manmade form or natural flotsam that I want to respond to formally. As I walk or bike across the expressway, and pass the cemetery from Queens to Brooklyn to my studio, I often find certain sizes of chipped plastic parts or metal strips that have been run over. There are criteria for forms that I want to respond to and transform further. There might be a flattened curved black shape that has remaining bits of color, which I can emulate in repeated forms, like an echo of the original that is already something different than what it was, or a piece of driftwood from a hike in the Adirondacks that looks like a goat. These parts have histories and my process with them is like strata, tracking of time, extension of the moment.

PB:  Your file folder drawings with the holes in the paper are just great, with a toughness about them. Do you have any plans to progress your drawings and works on paper even further?

EL:  Thank you. Yes, I’m into the rawness especially with the fan shaped ones, starting within a specific gestural shape itself, and then the ripping of the paper in patterns, exposing the surface behind it. Drawing is essential to my practice as a way of recording. It’s a way I figure out forms, doodles, words and thoughts I find and sketch in the day to day, and most importantly, ideas and sketches of forms to make. The drawings are always purest in this spontaneous way of drawing/recording of small inventories of form and variations of sculptures I have made. I’m continually trying to capture and depict these drawn forms in a larger scale and back again in sculpture. They are at their best most immediate, but I want to shift the scale and present them in a consistent format.

PB:  What’s influencing you outside of art and what’s been on your reading/listening list?

EL:  Much of what I’m reading these days has to do with memory, perception and heightened experiences:

Configurations by Octavio Paz. I’ve long loved reading these poems in Spanish and then English. He translated many of his poems himself. Reading in translation, in between languages, accentuates the “in-between-ness” that is in the poems. The space he creates, I relate to in my art, a sort of pre-history.

I had a show titled Force of Things -- some of the titles referenced these poems because I was thinking about them very much then. I also quoted part of Successive Suns of Summer in the PR; Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson; Remembrance of Things Past, Swann’s Way 1st Vol, Marcel Proust; The Wild Prayer of Longing, Poetry of the Sacred, Nathan A. Scott Grey; The Heart is a lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers; Marilynne Robinson books: Home, Housekeeping, Gilead; To the Lighthouse, Virginia Wolf, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (and Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ parallel novel take), Everything that Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor; The Essential Rilke, Selected and translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann (I also like that he wrote a book about Rodin). Also: The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks; Cosmos and History, Mircea Eliade.

Music is always a source of inspiration. I also write songs. I’ve been listening to Bill Callahan lately in the studio, Ethiopiques, various gypsy music, and there’s always Bach.

To see more: