Updated: Mar 23
The inflorescence is a word that refers to the flowers of a plant or the process of flowering
BI: Why art?
ES: Because I think in symbols and it's the easiest way for me to communicate my deepest feelings and thoughts to others. Connection with other people is important to me, but communication can be difficult because I am neurodivergent and sometimes shy. So art helps. That, and I love beauty, and creating beauty is a wonderful way to honor your time on this planet.
BI: What does your work aim to say?
ES: I create different bodies of work to talk about different things. This body of work is about coming into yourself, celebrating becoming a better person and learning life lessons, and learning to sit in your own power.
I am also concurrently working on a body of work about death and mourning inspired by my experiences as a headstone designer and by Victorian mourning culture. In the past, I have created bodies of work about the female experience, mental illness, and my personal relationship to a disability, among other topics.
BI: Your art deals with various themes, but death and mourning are at the forefront of your latest work. How has the pandemic influenced your work in this regard?
ES: I have been fascinated by death since childhood, a fascination that evolved out of my fear of the unfathomable mystery of our mortal endings. That fascination was rekindled when I started my current job as a headstone designer. In the course of designing headstones, I regularly come across folks who are experiencing the first death of a loved one or are thinking about their own impending mortality for the first time. Through these interactions, I have come to realize that our youth-centered consumer culture really does people a disservice when it comes to facing death. We keep much of the process of dying behind closed hospital doors and the realities of decay disguised with extensive embalming.
When the pandemic hit, suddenly there were a whole lot more people who were in this same predicament. Death became a topic of conversation out of necessity, and I saw our culture momentarily acknowledge mortality.
The pandemic showed me that there is a great need to start this discussion around death and to get people familiar with it. With familiarity and acceptance the fear of death lessens and the less fear you have, the more present you can be... not just to grief and dying, but to everyday life. And I want to help people approach these concepts in a non-threatening manner through art.
BI: What role does the artist have in society?
ES: The artist has one foot in society and one foot out of it- they have to, for their own survival. But that quasi-outsider stance gives the artist a unique perspective, it allows the artist to engage on their own terms- because of that, there is no one specific role for the artist in society- the artist can be a critic or fool, god or shaman, celebrity or genius. It's up to the individual artist how they choose to engage and it's up to the society to find a meaningful role for the artist (or not).
BI: One of the functions of your work seems to be making the past (most obviously, the Victorian era) relevant through these themes of death and mourning, as well as haunting and dealing with the unknown. How have these themes differed throughout time? What other connections do you see between the history you explore in your work and the world in which your art exists?
ES: I am incredibly interested in the death practices of all cultures throughout the world and throughout time. The variety of beliefs and customs surrounding death and loss is vast- the main consistency seems to be that all major cultures have some kind of culture around death, pointing out even more starkly that our current lack of death culture in the twenty-first century West is the exception, not the rule. I'd like to see that change.
I research extensively on worldwide and historical mourning practices, but because I am a white American woman in 2022, I am also aware that many of these beliefs and practices are not mine to discuss or weigh in on. So I allow my research into different cultural ideas about death to influence my thinking, but I limit my imagery to that of the Victorian period in England and America- I don't want to be appropriative of someone else's culture, especially concerning something as sensitive as death. The Victorian period was the last period of Western history to have a very distinct culture around death and mourning- and I feel comfortable using the imagery associated with Victorian mourning culture because I know for a fact that it was something my own ancestors participated in.
It's easy for us to dismiss the Victorians as ancient history, but I think that we would find many aspects of their culture recognizable. And I can't underestimate the fact that through the technology of the photograph, we can look real actual Victorian people in the face. It's very difficult to dismiss someone's grief and pain as abstract when you are looking directly at their photographic image. It is actually the relative modernity of the Victorians that I find so intriguing- they put a human face on death and mourning that allows twenty-first-century people to relate.
BI: We see resin a lot on social media, ranging from “5 Minute Craft” videos to fine art practices. When did you become interested in resin? How has it shaped your practice?
ES: I became interested in the resin during grad school. I was going to a very intense figurative painting program and I quickly realized that my paintings were suffering because was painting with a handicap- I just could not achieve a believable sense of space in my work because I have a muscular eye disorder that makes depth perception very difficult. So I decided that if I couldn't paint the illusion of space, then I would physically create that depth using layers.
That's why I began using resin, but I quickly fell in love with it- the richness that it lends colors, the endless options for collage and mixed media inclusions, and the various surface treatments that you can do to it mean that it is practically limitless as a medium. I am always trying to push what I can do with it- more layers, more three-dimensional elements, more everything!
BI: What parallels do you see between creating art and collecting beautiful things?
ES: I think that collecting and arranging is the very basis of art. Even if you are a minimalist, if you make art you are collecting images, colors, qualities of light, expressions, and dreams and you are arranging them on a canvas or in a sculpture or in the frame of a photograph for a particular effect.
I have noticed that most artists are collectors of some sort- I think it comes with the territory of being deeply moved by aesthetics, you want to surround yourself with beauty all the time. And most artists are driven to manifest their internal world externally- what better way to do that than through carefully curating a beautiful environment for yourself? For me the act of collecting drives the creation of the work- I fall so deeply in love with certain objects that I want to use them as materials in my art!
BI: What are some of your favorite symbols?
ES: Symbology is actually one of my favorite hobbies. Lately, I have been obsessed with two symbols in particular: flowers and flames.
Flowers fascinate me because symbolically they contain so many contradictions- they symbolize youth and springtime, yet we use them at funerals to mourn the dead. They hold connotations of innocence, yet they are the sex organs of plants. I also appreciate how they are connected to many cultures' conceptions of the feminine and all of the messy and contradictory ideas that we have about women.
Flames are just controlled bite-sized fires. They symbolize humanity's difficult relationship with nature- we attempt to tame what is natural, but can nature truly be tamed if it is so interconnected and vast beyond our understanding? There are also so many myths about fire- my favorite being the myth of Prometheus who steals fire from the gods. Through this myth, flames can also symbolize humanity's relationship to the divine.
I love the flame as a symbol for the soul- like a flame, the soul is something that is passionate and energetic and you can feel its heat. But you can't touch it and it has no weight or mass- it is not really there at all. It's that brilliance and incorporeality that is so frustrating/intriguing and keeps me coming back to the flame as a symbol.
BI: What motivates/inspires you?
ES: Three things:
Firstly, I am inspired by the rich tapestry of nature, I never cease to feel a humbled wonder at all the beautiful life that exists around us.
Secondly, I am inspired by the blood and heart ties of family and friends.
And last but never least, I am inspired by all of my fellow artists! Y'all never cease to show me what hard work, dedication, imagination, and a teeny bit of confidence can do. Thank you!
BI: What are the overarching themes of your solo exhibition at the gallery? What is your process for organizing and creating work for a solo exhibition?
ES: While I have been working on many paintings about death and mourning, there have been others that I felt compelled to start that fell outside of those themes. I had left many of these paintings half-finished, wondering why I was feeling compelled to make works that were so off-topic.
When Pepe asked me to do this show, I felt like the universe was inviting me to finish all of these odd-man-out paintings, paintings that I had begun during a time of great change and growth in my life. In the process of completing them, I discovered that all the paintings are about the same thing- they are all about growing into yourself.
Throughout the collection, there are flowers everywhere- in this context they represent the mature self unfolding and the promise of future fruits. Among all the flowers strides the figure of the witch: the purely powerful feminine archetype who has mastery over herself and her world. I found myself "reading" the paintings as one might read a spread of tarot cards and I really enjoyed that "fated" aspect- the idea that each of us is fated to bloom into a fully realized self. So that is what this collection is about- it is about manifesting your own power and becoming yourself.
BI: How do you navigate the art world?
ES: I try not to think about the "art world" if I can avoid it. For me, thinking about the "art world" leads to competition, which is counterproductive. If I think about the "art world" too hard, I psyche myself out.
So I prefer to think about the individual artists and galleries that I admire and respect and just try to let those relationships be what they're going to be based on the values we all share- creativity and passion. I don't want to take myself too seriously or take the art too seriously because that doesn't allow room for making mistakes or for joy. I prefer to think of the "art community" because it feels more symbiotic and connected than the "art world".
BI: How has your practice changed over time?
ES: I think that I have gotten more confident over the years and that had led me to take bolder steps and bigger, more complicated projects.
BI: What is your dream project?
ES: I have always wanted to do a huge installation project, something really immersive and interactive for viewers. I have also always dreamed of illustrating my own tarot deck.
BI: What superpower would you have and why?
ES: I would not want a superpower, actually. If I had a superpower I would feel very different and misunderstood by my fellow humans so I would not enjoy it... on second thought, maybe I would want a superpower if that superpower was something that would allow me to be closer to people, something like "radical empathy"... that would probably be ok.