Elise Ansel makes paintings derived from Renaissance and Baroque depictions of bacchanals and figures in the landscape. She uses paint as a vehicle for feeling or sensation rather than as a means of illustration. This method is inspired by Cézanne’s idea of ‘la petite sensation’, of using each brush stroke to communicate a sensation that is simultaneously optical and emotional. Each painting begins with a specific pictorial point of departure but then resolves into abstraction as the representational content is balanced and ultimately eclipsed by focus upon colour, composition and the materiality of the paint. Linear, rational readings are interrupted and replaced with a capacious awareness of the sensuous possibilities of paint. The paintings reference the potential for transformation and are a meditation on the role of beauty.
Ansel received a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University. After working in New York City in galleries, in the art departments of film studios and as an artist’s studio assistant, she earned a Masters degree in Visual Art on a full scholarship from Southern Methodist University. Ansel’s work was recently included in the Artists Choose Artists exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum in South Hampton, New York. Her solo shows include: Drawn from History, Cadogan Contemporary, London, 2013, The Invisible Thread, Ellsworth Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2013, and Correspondence, Phoenix Gallery, New York, 2013.
What is it about the Young Masters project that you are most interested in?
My project involves creating work that is inspired by Renaissance and Baroque paintings. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit in dialog with other artists whose work also involves an interaction with the history of art.
Can you explain to us what your work is about?
I make paintings that are inspired by Renaissance and Baroque depictions of bacchanals and figures in the landscape. Just as the artists of the Renaissance gave contemporary fifteenth and sixteenth century Italian form to classical mythology and to biblical allegories originating in the Middle East a couple of thousand years ago, so do I re-vision Renaissance and Baroque paintings in order to explore their relevance to twenty-first century culture.
I use paint as a vehicle for feeling or sensation rather than as a means of illustration. My method is inspired by Cézanne’s idea of “la petite sensation,” of using each brush stroke to communicate a sensation that is simultaneously optical and emotional. My paintings begin with a specific pictorial point of departure but then move towards abstraction as the representational content is balanced by my focus upon color, composition and the materiality of the paint. Linear, rational readings are interrupted and replaced with a capacious awareness of the sensuous possibilities of paint. The paintings reference the potential for transformation and are a meditation on the role of beauty.
I view the art historical cannon as an archive of imagery that I am free to use my own subjective purposes. These purposes include an interest in feminist re-interpretation, and a love of color and the material of paint. My project involves reclaiming, re-visioning and re-presenting paintings that were created at a time when women were seen as objects rather than as primary participants in the creative dialog. The paintings I work after are distant mirrors which I interpret through the lens of gestural abstraction.
I use painterly notation and shorthand to translate the source material into a contemporary pictorial language. The master works become stepping stones for my own visual improvisations. The source material is obscured to varying degrees by means of a range of techniques. The obfuscation of the source is both a metaphor for the veil time draws across memory, and the point of departure for the creation of a new and original picture. Further, it provides new ways of seeing and thinking about the “master works.” The obfuscation clarifies.
I am interested in the relevance of the handcrafted aspect of the historical paintings to the present, a time wherein the dominant means of visual communication in both the commercial and the fine arts is digital. Also, the source material allows me to explore the type of luminosity that can be achieved with colors made from mineral pigments rather than chemicals, dyes or light emitting diodes.
My paintings are informed by the idea of intertextuality. Coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966, intertextuality refers to an acknowledged process wherein new texts, bearing independent meanings, are transposed from pre-existing texts. Intertextuality points to the fact that, although closely intertwined, both texts bear a different and intrinsic ‘identity’. My paintings examine the ways in which intertextuality, an accepted and proven practice in the literary arts, can be applied to the visual arts.
Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
Renaissance artists Titian, Bellini, Fra Angelico and Caravaggio and the early Netherlandish so call Primitives have been very important to my work. Matisse and Picasso have been very inspirational and influential. Contemporary artists that have profoundly inspired me include Marilyn Lenkowski, Gerhard Richter, Howard Hodgkins, Katy Moran, Nina Kluth, and perhaps, most significantly, Frank Auerbach, who has been a guiding light and beacon, both in terms of his very focused work habits and his magnificently rich and glowing paintings.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I was born in NYC where my father worked in advertising and my aunt was the art director of the NY Times magazine. I earned a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University. While I was at Brown, I studied visual art at both Brown and RISD. While studying literature at Brown, I was introduced to Ulysses, James Joyce’s modernist interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey. This was the inception of my current project in the visual arts. Upon graduation, I returned to NYC, where I worked in the film industry in an attempt to integrate my interest in word and image. Eventually, painting took over as the medium most able to convey my ideas.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Music awakened in me a certain depth of feeling that I eventually realized I could best express visually.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
I would probably be doing something having to do with either literary fiction or film.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
Last year my work was selected for inclusion in the Artists Choose Artists exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum in South Hampton, NY. It was a great honor to have my work exhibited in the beautiful new Herzog & de Meuron-designed building, in dialog with the work of such highly accomplished artists such as Mel Kendrick, Laurie Andersen, Keith Sonnier and David Salle.
What are your plans for the future?
I am scheduled to have a solo exhibition at Cadogan Contemporary in London in October of 2015. In addition, I am scheduled to have solo exhibitions at the Phoenix Gallery in NYC in February of 2015, and at the Ellsworth Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico in July of 2015.