New American Paintings/Blog

Luscious Darkness: Ellen Ziegler’s Body Double by New American Paintings
October 19, 2012, 8:25 am
Filed under: Interview, Q&A | Tags: , , ,

The darkness of Seattle’s upper latitude slips quietly into place as soon as summer ends, the long afternoon light exchanged for gray afternoons and early sunsets.  A number of the city’s October exhibitions reflected these seasonal transitions with darker tones and a more sinister subtext, including SOIL’s Teeth, Gallery 110’s Urban Martyrs and Roq la Rue’s Pureheart.  While less outwardly macabre than others, Seattle artist Ellen Ziegler brings both physical and psychological darkness into play through her latest series Body Double, also on view at SOIL. – Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Body Double 
Series2012. Media include acrylic and metallic pigment on tar paper, gouache, silver thread. 36″ x 48″

Manipulated sheets of roofing paper act as the canvas for the artist’s metallic clouds of acrylic, which coat the surface’s crevasses like a layer of moss.  Ziegler references childhood visits to the La Brea Tar Pits in L.A. as a connection to the tar material, which offers a rich space for consideration—an estranged world between past and present. While the painted forms take on an unruly path that bleeds outwards from their centers, each ends definitively at its borders, creating a pointed tension between the interior and exterior of the inkblot-like images.  I caught up with Ellen to find out more about the origins of her lusciously nebulous paintings.

Body Double 
Series2012. Media include acrylic and metallic pigment on tar paper, gouache, silver thread. 36″ x 48″

EL: One of my favorite aspects of Body Double is the textural thickness of the metallic pigments that almost float atop the darkened backgrounds and grid-like details.  Can you describe your process in creating these works?

EZ: Because I’m drawn to tarpaper as a material, I’ve investigated media that would come to life on the dark, felted, tarry surface. Metallic, iridescent, and pearlescent pigments show up as almost luminescent when mixed with the right proportion of acrylic medium – Golden Acrylics makes a line of liquid mediums with different flow properties. It’s been a matter of trial and error to discover the materials and proportions that show off the pigments’ luminescent qualities.

Body Double 
Series, vertical2012. Acrylic and metallic pigment, gouache and silver thread on tar paper. 54″ x 30″

The fractal patterns are made by pouring pigmented acrylic on a page, folding it in half, and then mashing the paint around with a variety of hard objects until the image is finished. It’s important to me that the discovery of making fractal patterns was an artifact of accident. With the goal of approaching the immaterial through the material, I have always submerged myself in experimentation with both concepts and media.

I am less interested in making a unified body of work than in allowing accident, chance and cumulative experience to yield an increasingly secure sense of self, material, and expression. It’s like learning to cook without recipes: the confidence that comes from an intuitive knowledge of measurement, flavor, and chemistry allows endless assured experimentation.

Body Double 
Series2012. Media include acrylic and metallic pigment on tar paper, gouache, silver thread. 36″ x 48″

EL: Many of the materials included Body Double are consistent with your 2010 The Book of Knowledge series—tarpaper, metallic pigments, acrylic and gouache. Given the prominent role materials play within your practice, how do see Body Double in relation to the earlier series?

EZ: The Book of Knowledge is a lexicon of both materials and imagery. Because I needed to figure out what media worked on tarpaper (not a traditional artist’s material), I made the book both as a record of my experiments and as a parallel, progressive development of imagery. That investment of time in experimentation led to Body Double. Making those forty large drawings in The Book of Knowledge gave me a visceral sense of the medium and the confidence to move into new emotional territory.

Body Double 
Series2012. Media include acrylic and metallic pigment on tar paper, gouache, silver thread. 36″ x 48″

EL: How did the human body become of interest as a focal point for the new work?

EZ: I was browsing in a bookstore and came across Doppelganger, a stunning collection of work by artists, photographers and designers who deal with the human form. Seeing so much contemporary work about the body at once caused me to have a “eureka” moment: the images in my work to date had been more neurological – marks, forms and materials that represented the perceptions of the mind and the nervous system. My next step would now be to represent embodiment.

And so, the Body Double series.

Bilateral symmetry unites us with many other life forms; I believe that’s why we are so drawn to Rorschach-like patterns, which I chose to represent the body. The shaped pages that hold the images reference the body as well: an “hourglass” form as body icon, and a “mirror” or “pond” form as reflective symbol.

Body Double 
Series, vertical2012. Acrylic and metallic pigment, gouache and silver thread on tar paper. 54″ x 30″

EL: Where do you see your work going next, post-Body Double?

EZ: Because I search out new materials so often, I do a lot of experimentation, and I’m eager to continue this “body” of work. I want to continue to experiment with pigments, acrylic mediums, and different marks—hand-painting and drawing—in juxtaposition with the symmetrical forms. Perhaps a “lexicon,” like The Book of Knowledge, with this particular technique of image-making…

I plan to work both bigger and smaller. The fractal patterns will change in scale relative to the dimensions of the painting.  I’d like to bring the size of the paintings out to the edge of peripheral vision when the viewer stands a few feet away.

Tar paper comes in 33 foot lengths, so that’s a size that is intriguing.

How big can I make a painting before it stops working as a painting with this imagery?

Body Double is on view at SOIL in Seattle, WA, through October 27.  Ellen Ziegler is a Seattle-based artist whose work has recently been featured in SOIL at SEATAC International Airport, Prognosticators at Sofia Biennale in Sofia, Bulgaria and UN-SPEAK-ABLE: Book Arts Exhibition at the Arts Center in Corvallis, OR. Ziegler’s The Book of Knowledge was awarded the First Prize Juror’s Purchase Award at the 2012 Brand 40 competition, and is now in the collection of the Brand Libraries, Glendale, CA.  Zeigler’s work will also be featured in SOIL at AQUA Art Fair, Miami Beach,from December 5-8, 2012.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Manager of Adult Public Programs at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).


1 Comment so far
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Lovely artwork. I very much enjoyed seeing it and hearing how it is made. Thank you.

Comment by artzent

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