“It is not important how the artists feel about their work while doing it, but how they think about it after it is finished.” — Lori Ellison
Lori Ellison is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. Much of her work includes notebook paper drawings and gouache on panel paintings, but she has worked in enamels, egg tempera and glitter. the intimacy of size and the precisioned focus of repeated patterns on an intimate scale (all works included here are 8 1/2 x 11). The intensity of her visual work is found also in her written voice, particularly in her aphorisms. These aphorisms can often be found on her Facebook status, inviting those of us to engage in a linguistic lyrical truth similar to that expressed on canvas. Ellison says her interest is in “Proportion based on the lyric, not the epic – that is where the juice lives….Art that is the size and resonance of a haiku, quiet and solid as the ground beneath one’s feet…A discreet art, valiantly purified of the whole hodgepodge of artist’s tricks and tics.”
Lori Ellison has exhibited at the McKenzie Fine Art gallery in New York and her work is part of the Museum of Modern Art collection.
Eyecells, 2012 8 1/2 x 11
art snob: With such a meditative repetition, I wonder if contemporary viewers, forced to stop and spend time with your work, are willing. While beautiful to simply view, do you think the average viewer (whatever that means) or the contemporary eye for design is able to engage in the meditative quality of your work?
Ellison: I have been told many times that they are meditative. I have no idea how much time they have invested in looking at them. I also get the word obsessive a lot. Isn’t it interesting that they call up two opposite poles of a frame of mind?
artsnob: I’m not sure I see that as opposing poles as much as I find the term negative and perhaps offensive. I suppose this is why I question a contemporary viewer. Do you feel the need then to correct this notion of obsession? I wonder how many are willing to consider what you do instead of writing it off as an obsession. Why not precision?
Ellison: Precision is a good word. I have been at times a very obsessive though so I recognize those two poles and don’t really mind if people say obsessive. I was in a show at a space in New Jersey that was titled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and thought that was an unfortunate title for a show. An even better word might be meticulous.
Geometrical Jazz, 2012 8 1/2 x 11
artsnob: With each of your drawings and the aphorisms you post on Facebook, I am increasingly fascinated with the fundamentals of drawing and writing you employ in your work. I would even say I become nostalgic. While I am so excited, as a Facebook friend, to be able to see your work and read your aphorisms in “realtime,” I sometimes long for an intimacy your work celebrates. I do wish to share the space with the work. How do you think the fundamentals of drawing translate in the online media? Also, your aphorisms and the quotes included on your Facebook status come from an earlier form of textual messages….those of fortune cookies. As the artist, do you at all feel the disconnect I try to describe here?
Ellison: I finally related the aphorisms to my drawings by coming up with a special way of writing them and drawing a repetitive motif and have them as a drawing series. I had never had much outlet for the aphorisms until Facebook with its status updates. Although I got them published three times on a blog run by James Geary, who has written and compiled two books on aphorisms. I don’t feel a disconnect having turned them into word art which I had done in the past in other ways. I also write poetry.
Strings, 2012 8 1/2 x 11
artsnob: Do you share your poetry online or have you had it published? Or do you read it as a performative art form? I imagine how all of these would become part of a solo show in the gallery. Do you see this work as translatable in more traditional art spaces?
Ellison: I had toyed with the idea of making the poems into drawings like the aphorisms. But I will probably do it much later. I have been published in the upcoming issue of Gargoyle Magazine. I have also read aloud, but only on rare occasions. Facebook was very good for me “coming out” as a poet. There is a blog called Buddy of Work by Henry Samelson that matches artists’ main work with a passion on the side that published one of my paintings and one of my poems.
Millefiore, 2012 8 1/2 x 11
artsnob: Similarly, it is difficult to recognize your work as small when presented online. So much of the writing about your work stresses the diminutive size of all of your pieces. Until I looked around at gallery images, I wouldn’t have realized this. The size of your work seems to be an incredibly important element in what you are trying to achieve. How do you maintain this conversation online? Or does exhibiting your work online permit a different or more welcome discussion about form and pattern?
Ellison: People online do not tend to discuss the work they see. They tend to use one word like Nice! or Wow! or free associate. One of my friends on FB started a group called Critical Analysis to remedy this situation. It was lively and refreshing at first but has been inactive the last week or so. People frequently ask me what the size of my work is. As to working small, I prefer the intimacy – and have written an artist’s statement/essay on it titled On Humility.
artsnob: I suppose this is the weakness of Facebook to which I refer in the previous question. I’ve not seen the Critical Analysis group (though I may look for it), but to push this issue again, does your work with aphorisms, language, text, even conversation find Facebook ironically unfit for discussion of your art?
Ellison: There have been some very good discussions of art on Facebook and some worthwhile commentary on the drawings and paintings I share. I was reviewed by James Panero of The New Criterion and he noted my use of social media. I am so pleased with who I have met and what discussions there are since joining Facebook about two and a half years ago. And it is a good break from my incessant drawing and painting.
artsnob: I see your abstractions as so incredibly connected to a sort of spirituality in process and form. Many have compared your forms to Eastern or tantric styles. I see similarities as well in medieval church decorations of stained glass and mosaics. Each of these aesthetics point to what I see is pure form and a path to truth (for the viewer). Does your process reflect similar ideas for you, the artist? Keeping with the religiosity of the comparison, do you see your work as prayerful or communal?
Ellison: One of my aphorisms is Spirituality is in the inner eye of the beholder. If someone finds spirituality in my work I am delighted and even moved by it. I believe it is not my place to claim spirituality for myself, as many would also see no connection, or don’t believe. All of the sources you mention above I have loved to look at. My mother was a medievalist.
Tangle, 2012 8 1/2 x 11
artsnob: More about your process. I mentioned to you earlier about how as a knitter I find yet another access to your work. The repetition of knitting is very meditative, yet the required precision of the stitches point to something that is far from random. Do you find truth in combining these elements of art making or perhaps you seek truth in this way?
Ellison – There are many truths but it feels true to me.