Frame 61

Elizabeth McDonald

Frame 61
Elizabeth McDonald

Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin?

As a child I wanted to be an artist, but it faded away slowly especially after taking art classes in high school where I realized I wasn’t particularly good. But after a few years of distraction that led down an international business track in undergrad, I unintentionally came back to it. Through my business studies, I found an opportunity to spend time in a strict language immersion program in Beijing. English was forbidden. It was challenging to say the least, but there was something to speaking, thinking, and — most importantly — writing in this completely new way that rewired my mind to a different understanding of aesthetics, form, and communication.

I hadn’t yet put it together that these would at all be effective tools for my old surrendered passion, but after that very challenging, very engaged travel I tried to “take it easy” by taking what I expected to be relatively simple courses. Life drawing was the top of my list, and when I started I could feel a perfect, somehow unexplainable parallel between

the act of matching the stroke of Chinese characters and accurately rendering the human form in front of me. That combined ureke moment of grasping draftsmanship in a new way and intuitively finding the link between symbol, representation, style and communication sealed the deal for me. I wouldn’t be able to do anything else with my life but mine that connection further.

Later I went to the Glasgow School of Art for my Master’s, and there I felt like my work began connecting with the present moment in a more sincere way. I was surrounded by incredible self-motivated interdisciplinary artists that were really putting a lot of thought into their work. Though painting generally was met with suspicion by these ultra cutting-edge artists,  I feel like because of their influence and rigour, I found myself ahead of the trajectory of painting — though it was hard won, my work was eventually accepted as legitimate to that heady bunch. I found the new territory I’d been craving and I’ve been exploring it ever since. 

Pool Crowd 2016

Pool Crowd 2016

Some of your paintings seem to give the impression of being affected by glitches and/or interference. Could you talk about this and your thoughts behind it?

My brother is a nerd. He’s a brilliant neuro-psychologist, and I guess it helps to be a nerd for that kind of work. In any case, he’s a gamer too. It helps him relax after dealing with way too much of the real world. I was visiting him in Dallas and we had this amazing conversation about virtual worlds and massive multiplayer online games, not exactly my wheelhouse, but I was intrigued. We were talking about screen tears and the increase in visual glitches when there’s too much information for these online worlds to hold, or as players learn tricky unforeseeable ways of breaking boundaries — when they reach just past where the programmers expect them to go.

At the same time, I was chasing down two exciting new leads in my studio: one was research based where I was exploring the psychology and imagery of scapegoating rituals (surprisingly pan-cultural), the other was a more practical, goal-driven process of attempting to paint whatever is impossible to paint well. Glitches and interference became the bridge between these two threads.

I was in the middle of painting this 9 foot by 9 foot canvas of a bonfire when I had this conversation with my brother. Fire is very difficult to paint because it’s immaterial and always changing. There’s a deadness to depictions of fire. So I was grappling with the painting to try to overcome the inherent qualities of the subject, to find a way of characterizing it’s movement and immateriality differently than it had been done before. The MMOG conversation matched the boundary-seeking, boundary-breaking struggles I set for myself, and I got the idea to use the aesthetics of these digital worlds to overcome the static nature of the still image. I used these digital impressions as a sort of found-cubism that I could pull from to convey multiple perspectives from multiple times simultaneously, but unlike the cubists, I have the advantage of working with imagery that now seems plausible thanks to the bizarre occurrences of buffering glitches and digital artifacts.

The MMOG communities became interesting to me from the research side as well, this and social media becoming popular venues for modern day scapegoating. I began to find other glitched out or pixelated subject matter in that search, and the two impulses I had been working with in the studio blended into a strong body of paintings and sculpture that I exhibited in a recent solo show at grayDuck Gallery.

All That Ever Was 2015

All That Ever Was 2015

Could you talk about your sculpture piece “Going Sensibly” and the leap from your painting to this humorous object?

Well, you see, making a show about the horrors of scapegoating, you need some levity where you can get it. In a superstitious moment, I painted this cheery object of industry feeling like if I did it right, the object would just show up in my life. I liked the small painting, and folks who came to my studio liked the painting, and so I spent a lot of time looking at it and talking about it with people. At some point, the dark shadows under the wheels began to look like little high heels.

I was working with scaffolding of a different sort (the kind for public corporal and even capital punishment) through video works at the time, and I began to look at the painting of the scaffolding in heels as slamming together some of those ideas about scapegoating (which remains frequently aimed at women), feminism, punishment, and the ladder as a symbol for economic mobility. I decided to make the piece in the round, and though there’s far more humor than brooding concept in this heavy industrial practical thing sitting atop these very “sensible heels,” there remains a nefarious undercurrent that I think those who linger with it pick up on.

Installation shot at grayDUCK Gallery 2015

Installation shot at grayDUCK Gallery 2015

What is your process, how do you start a new piece of work?

Well at this point, that's sort of like asking how do you load a new color on your brush. Right now I’m working more in bodies of work and exhibition planning than in single discrete self-contained pieces. Starting a new piece is not so hard if it is the natural progression of a series of work, the next development in a research topic, or a needed balance to a nearly completed exhibition grouping like “going sensibly” became for its neighbors. As far as starting a new body of work goes, I frequently look at different facets of human ritual and other unaddressed influencers on social interaction, working from these until a pattern starts to form between a few initial works. Then I start editing and pinning down where I’m headed with this new subject, find more material on it and flesh out the topic until I feel confident of the body of works worth.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine?

I’m in the studio every day for 6-12 hours. I’m good at routine in the broad sense, but hour-by-hour routine is not my strong suit, so I tend to do something different in the studio each day. The important part is for me to just be there. One day I’ll be making make-shift sculptures. The next day I’ll destroy them all. The next I’ll paint all day long. The next I’ll spend a full day harvesting source material. And the next I’ll spend most of the day bouncing on a miniature trampoline, flummoxed. There’s a lot of business nonsense sprinkled in there as well to make sure I keep making a living off of this stuff, but trampolines are a lot more fun than quickbooks, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Take You With Us 2014

Dinner Seance 2016

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

I want to bring the viewer closer to a subject than they would ever otherwise care to get. I want to scrape viewers against the great mysteries they’ve grown numb to through overexposure. I want the viewers to feel or think deeply, to linger, to return, and to connect to the exquisite suffering and joy of our sense filled existence.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

A couple months ago I saw Anri Sala’s show at the New Museum. Ravel Ravel was completely mesmerising. TJ Lemanski here in Austin at Pump Project may be some of the best industrial sculpture I’ve seen for a long time. The instagram feed and associated small-audience performance pieces of Sean Ripple (@ripple1213) are consistently intriguing. 

How do you go about naming your work?

The same way people go about naming their children- haphazardly and based off of whim, with some attention to whether it will cause ridicule or weakness. If I’m stumped, all sorts of ways are useful: divinatory means like casting yarrow stalks, bibliomancy, or reading entrails.

Digital Pyre 2015

Enough is Enough 2016

Inky Table 2016

Inky Table 2016

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about? 

I’ve been spending all my money on plane tickets so that I can root around New York and get a better handle on the scene there. I’m starting to make some good connections and am continually surprised at the altruistic character of the people in the arts in that town.

It’s not at all what I expected, and it makes me want to sink in more to that scene in a professional sense. I also love Austin, so I’m not planning on a move anytime soon, but my professional weight is definitely shifting to the Northeast. I’ve got nothing sealed down just yet, and I don’t want to jinx it, so let’s just say I’m working towards a 2017 solo show for a brand new audience. 

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Publishing date of this interview 24/06/16