“Gathering Gravity Grows Gray”, a solo show of recent sculptures and paintings by Elisa Soliven, assembles a selection of works dealing with the notion of procession, conglomeration, journeying, mortality, and materiality. Groupings of figures, walking together as though in some sort of ritualistic procession, or gathering in protest, each contain particular idiosyncrasies that individuate them from the mass, while still displaying what appears to be a strong solidarity. What the artist refers to as “group togetherness”.
These groupings are painted in secondary or tertiary colors, often approaching, or paired with various chromatic grays, which lend to an almost tribal sense of unity, while still safely avoiding a feeling of homogeneity. The source material for Elisa’s formal transformations are almost always specific people that sit for her or from memory, but she quickly departs from the realm of observational sculpting, into a zone of material and formal abstraction, which transfigures her subjects, often via repetition & connectivity, are then mediated through her handling of the materials: pounded, pressed, carved, and baked earth, and ultimately transformed into singular, unified forms. As Elisa puts it, “the group or crowd as a social organism wanting change.” These works are embedded with pieces of ceramic, salvaged and melded into new and multifarious forms. These gem-like sculptural artifacts, once integrated into the new sculptures, often exaggerate the irregular shape of the pieces, while still contributing to a uniformed surface, refined in its particular style of quirky grace.
Most recently, Soliven has been making what she refers to as ‘grid sculptures’. These sculptures, which she also terms ‘vessels’, make use of the grid as a formal device for creating democratic, all-over compositions, which act like scaffolding, to adorn monolith vessels, which also resemble talismans, medieval fortifications, devotional objects, gorges, tombstones, baskets, and other-worldly creatures. These vessels, some of which have holes, through which you can peer into the interior from the side, and others which only contain an opening-to a hollow interior, are predominantly painted various shades of purples, blues, and grays, with the mosaic-like modules bringing color to the works.
Another set of works represented in the exhibition are Elisa’s ‘luggage paintings’, for which she uses a piece of luggage as mold to form the shape of these ceramic paintings, which hang vertically on the wall. For Elisa, the luggage is meant to suggest travel, and venturing: “The idea of going outwards, discovering, and returning.” These works contain fragments of cast fruit, plums, pomegranates, and shells. In her words, “The luggage paintings symbolize traveling to experience new notions of color and materiality and coming home with these.”
While divergent in form and specificity of intention, the various series of work here in create a coherent, and unified constellation of objects and ideas, in large part due to the unifying power of Elisa’s hand, as well as her strategic placement, and selection of color and mark. To be present with these artworks is to reconcile the artist’s distinctive vision with one’s own projective familiarities with these objects, a flexibility Elisa engenders via her fluid handling of the proverbial and the uncanny.
JJ Manford 6.19.17
Elisa Soliven born in New York City; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received an M.F.A. in Painting from Hunter College in 2011 and a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College. Her work has been reviewed by Two Coats of Paint, Art Critical, and Hyperallergic. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Nudashank, Baltimore; Daily Operation at Bull & Ram, NYC; and Sardine, Brooklyn, among others. She is also a co-founder of the Bushwick based artist collective, Underdonk.
(June 29th – July 23rd 2017)