1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?
The first book that influenced my life was actually a magazine, a National Geographic for Kids magazine about the extinction of dinosaurs. It was 1994 or 1995, I was six or seven years old and this was the first time I realized the permanence and seriousness of death. The second book was Sarah Plain and Tall, I was eight years old and I realized that one day my parents would die…the reality of death was reconfirmed. And finally, laugh if you must but the Harry Potter series has been incredibly influential in its ability to show me the power of embracing unreality and reminding me of the potential for life after death.
Right now I am reading a couple of books by Elizabeth Kubler Ross who was renowned for her research into near death experiences and who pioneered the Hospice Movement. I am currently watching The Wire, I am a sucker for crime and murder mystery shows.
2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic?
Unfortunately many of my art projects, most of which are community based, have been put on hold due to the pandemic and social distancing rules. I am a Certified Nursing Assistant with ThedaCare working with the elderly and have been putting in a lot of hours. My artistic energy is being focused to find ways to creatively engage my residents and other elderly communities during this time of extreme isolation; I have a few little projects in the works that I hope to unveil soon.
Other than that I am making a Papier-mâché model of Jacob’s Meat Market in Appleton, adorned with a small version of the real life mural I painted there last year. This piece is for an instructor’s exhibit at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg TN, I am teaching a large scale drawing and mural workshop there this Fall (sign up for it!). I am also working on a mural design for Arrowmont to be painted by volunteers during their 75th Jubilee Celebration. And for my personal artwork, I am soaking in my experiences working with the elderly and have a few projects proofing in my brain.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?
I fail just a little bit every day. I am a perfectionist, I have overly high standards, and I still get super bothered by failure. However; I make a conscious effort to TRY not to get bogged down by my mess-ups, I take them to heart and I work incredibly hard to learn from them and do better the next time.
My dad loves to remind me of the time I was nine years old and I attended my friend’s piano recital. I had been taking lessons for a few months and the recital leader invited me to play a song. I hadn’t memorized any songs so instead I pretended as though I was a professional pianist and played an incredibly long made-up composition consisting of a lot of key rolling and pedal pushing. At the end, the audience was stunned (probably in complete shock) and when asked what song I had played, I replied with extreme confidence “Oh just a little something I made up”. Nine year old me rocked that failure and stepped away overflowing with confidence. Confidence is key.
4. What is your most unusual habit?
I read books about death. When I was a little girl I enjoyed picking the lint out from in-between peoples’ toes… I grew out of that. I enjoy dipping those little round Tostitos tortilla chips in applesauce. This isn’t really a habit but I have been told that I have an unusual thirst for justice.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?
Marcel Duchamp. I’ve had an artist crush on him, and the Dada and Surrealist movements in general, since high school. Duchamp was a weirdo and I LOVE weirdos. Besides making countless artworks that broke away from tradition, challenged the norm, and defied reality; Duchamp had an alter ego Rrose Sélavy who was in her own way revolutionary. I deeply relate to Duchamp in many ways, I too have an alter ego (Birdman) and I enjoy crossing the line between reality and unreality. I have no doubt that Duchamp would accurately capture all of my beauties and absurdities in the most magical manner.
6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?
I go through phases. Right now the most indispensable items in my studio are cardboard and White Pearl erasers. And post-it notes.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?
I have a difficult time sitting still and doing nothing so I often try to keep busy and hope that something sparks. This can be as simple as doing the dishes, attempting to organize my studio, going on a walk, doing yoga, or baking….I do a lot of baking when I’m in a funk. There was one tough week in particular when I made about a dozen pies. I also make thousands and thousands of Worry Birds. They are these little handmade clay knick-knacks I’ve been making forever, they sell like hot cakes, so when I’m not feeling productive or inspired I sit down and make a flock of Worry Birds which always seems to lift my spirits and make me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
What questions do I ask myself? For me it’s more of a need to quiet my overactive mind so I tend to avoid asking questions. Instead I write to-do lists or idea lists to empty the mental bucket.
8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?
Our role as artists is to use creativity and imagination to raise spirits, cope, and to encourage unique ways of engaging with one another from a distance. Artists are like chameleons; able to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive…and help others to survive. Most of us are also incredibly frugal and can make beautiful objects out of the most simple materials. This difficult time will definitely be a challenge for artists but I am confident in our ability to bring light, love, and art to these dark and dreary times.
9. Do you collect anything?
I have three primary collections.
1) Snail mail correspondences from childhood to present day. I am a HUGE supporter of taking time to pull out a pen and paper and sit down to handwrite a special note for someone. Send me a text, great. Send me a letter and I’ll LOVE you forever…and write you back!
2) Memories. I carry around a pack of post-it notes in my pocket while I’m working my Nursing Aid job and I jot down little stories or memories shared with me by the elderly. When I get home I place them in a jar to use later on for art project prompts.
3) Cassette tapes. I have a portable cassette walk-man-type thing and a little boom box that I take around with me. When I go thrifting I always check out the cassette section, 99 cents each or ten for a dollar….so I always go home with a strange little assortment of ten cassette tapes. My favorites right now are Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints and The Space Jam Michael Jordan Movie Soundtrack.
10. What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?
Trudge along. Be kind. Think out of the box. Go above and beyond to do a little something special for a family member, friend, neighbor, or stranger. One of the best feelings in the world is knowing you’ve brightened someone’s day.
11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?
Working so closely to death has made me realize how precious life is. I try really hard to make the most of each day. In Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book The Wheel of Life; A Memoir of Living and Dying, she states that the meaning of life is LOVE. I really like this idea and through my life and studio practice I work to incorporate lots of love. Life is hard, for everyone, and one of the most powerful things we can do with our time, energy, and creativity is to radiate a sense of joy through everything we do. My artwork deals with tricky topics like death and dying but I use my artwork as a way of making these topics more welcoming and less daunting in hopes of helping others to relive their anxieties and make room for a more happy and loving life.
12. Share an inspiring image.
Elyse's work will be available on ARTSY and on view at James May Gallery as a part of the exhibition: Tension in the Ordinary | Winter Invitational.
Exhibition dates: Feb 8 - April 11 2020?
James May Gallery
219 State Street
Algoma, WI 54201
HOURS: CLOSED for the safety of all.
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