Elise Ansel/ Artist Statement
I make large scale abstract paintings and digital prints that spring from Old Master depictions of bacchanals, interiors, and figures in the landscape. My work is about reclaiming, re-visioning and re-presenting paintings that were created at a time when women were seen as objects rather than equal participants in the creative dialogue. The paintings I work with are distant mirrors which I interpret through the lens of gestural abstraction and the prism of contemporary practice. I use gesture, improvisation, painterly notation and the tools of photography to translate Old Master imagery into a contemporary pictorial language. Paint is used 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. The paintings begin with specific Old Master works as points of departure but then resolve into abstraction as the representational content is transformed and ultimately eclipsed by focus upon color, composition and the materiality of the paint. Linear, rational readings are interrupted. The historical paintings my work departs from become structures on which to hang paint; the soundness of these structures capacitates great improvisational freedom. The real subject becomes the substance and surface of oil paint, the variety of its applications, and the ways in which it can be used to celebrate life. Further subjects are pictorial language itself and the impact authorial agency on the meaning of a work.
I create large-scale paintings by making small abstract studies of Old Master paintings and then enlarging them. I often paint multiple iterations of a single source. In general, I begin with a series of quick, improvisational oil studies. Employing Renaissance methods and a grid, I translate the small studies into large-scale paintings. These embrace the choreography of the former but present my forms with an increased focus on color and gestural expression. Spontaneity, instinct and intuition eclipse rational, linear thinking during the process of making the small paintings. The large paintings, however, are more considered. The process of transcription and enlargement involves exploring the balance between abandon and constraint, freedom and calibration, intuition and intellect.
In the large-scale digital prints, I add another link to the chain of transcription by using a flatbed scanner and a digital printer to enlarge the small paintings. Here, while the concept of ‘scaling up’ continues to be linked to the Old Masters, traditional techniques that involve the hand are replaced by a mechanical photographic process. The transcribing and re-scaling devices of the Fifteenth Century (based on the use of a grid) and of the Seventeenth Century (using a the camera obscura and reliant on a lens), find their contemporary equivalent in the flat-bed scanner and the ensuing digital file. The scanner is a form of camera, and the pixelated image it provides is, in essence, a grid.
The digital prints fuse painting and photography while pushing at the borders of and re-defining those media. Like Lichtenstein's brush strokes, they take a unique handcrafted gesture, put it through a mechanical process, and then return it to the center of attention. The flatbed scanner picks up the textural surface of the small paintings and the physical properties of the brushstrokes to such a degree that the digital prints appear as dimensional as bas-reliefs. As such, they add another layer to the ways in which my work addresses not only the dialogue between painting and photography but also the dialogue between ‘the real,’ the handmade, the digital and the virtual.
I conceive of the small paintings from which the larger works derive as handmade negatives. The digital prints draw on basic darkroom technology and the photographic idea of using a negative of a negative to create a positive. Other photographic tools I employ include enlargement, cropping, burning, dodging, selective focus, zooming, and multiple exposure. In my work, these tools are used in the service of ever greater degrees of abstraction. For example, I will sometimes blur or unfocus an image, or crop and distil a detail until it becomes impossible to read. Abstraction allows me to interrupt a one-sided narrative and transform it into a sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view.
This stands in contrast to the traditional dialogue between painting and photography which has often centered on painters’ use of the tools of photography in service of ever greater degrees of realism, as is evident in the work of photorealist painters and also in the paintings of artists such as Vermeer and Caravaggio who used lenses to help them make their extraordinarily lucid and presciently cinematic paintings of moments frozen in time. My work has always involved the use of photographic and digital reproductions but this series now more explicitly acknowledges the extent to which the photographic apparatus mediates the way I see and think and make my work.
In cinema, B Camera is the designation for the camera that shoots extraneous filler that may either wind up on the editing room floor or be spliced into the final film as needed. The B Camera shoots from a different, usually more oblique angle and is recording simultaneously to the A Camera, which is presumably "manned" by the more talented cinematographer, and is more closely and exactly following the scripted narrative. I consider the B Camera to be the overarching metaphor for this body of work, which is not so much a challenge to the canon as it is a use of its depth and resonance to shine a light on imbalances that continue to exist today. The B Camera project is a call for an expanded definition of reality that is inclusive of multiple points of view.