Friday, March 27, 2009

Talking About Artists: Elizabeth Bisbing

Top: Tornado, from the Calamity Series, 2009, collage: ink on paper, 15 1/2 x 11 3/8 inches
Bottom: Mercy (after Simone Martini), from the Paper Madonnas Series, 2008, collage: gouache on paper, with gold leaf, 12 x 8 inches

I met painter Elizabeth Bisbing while I was a student at Rutgers University.  We were introduced by her daughter and my friend, Christine Ramsey-Wade (a seriously talented poet), who invited me to see her mother's work at an art opening in Red Bank, NJ.  Bisbing's earlier works - small, square paintings depicting iconic spools of thread and geometric Monopoly houses in surreal, flat landscapes of bright, eerie color - conveyed complex themes of feminism and domesticity.                         

Bisbing met with me last week to discuss her current body of work that was most recently exhibited at Soho20 Chelsea Gallery in New York and is featured in the traveling group exhibition, The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces (now at Indiana University East).  Her medium has shifted to collage, although the painter in her is still very evident, and her imagery is sourced from both the home and the museum.  Referencing and borrowing imagery from famous masterpieces featuring iconic depictions of women, she re-interprets the paintings through small-scale collages, lending them new context and dimensionality.  "I wanted to (reclaim) the word 'Master' since 'Mistress' doesn't work well for women; it has negative associations and implications," commented Bisbing.      

The amount of detail and labor that goes into each of these collages is a testament to Bisbing's patience and love of creating them.  She starts with several drawings that she then traces for her collage elements, essentially creating patterns which can be re-used for several works.  Each element, which is often miniscule in size, is cut from sheets of different shades of colored paper that Bisbing has hand painted herself with gouache.  The final product is painterly and mosaic-like all at once; the painstaking process quite evident in the work.    

In addition to referencing masterpieces, Bisbing has created a series of collages which she has titled her "Calamity Series."  These works, in black/white and gray scale, each show two little girls in the direct path of a natural disaster - a shark, a tidal wave or a tornado - innocently going about their play without any awareness or knowledge of danger.  A mother of four, including two grown daughters, Bisbing "wanted to convey what it's like to be or to raise a little girl in our society."  

Even if I didn't know Bisbing personally, I feel as though I would after seeing her work.  From her art making process to her imagery, you get a sense of the artist's desires, hopes and fears; you can imagine just how she might be working in her studio.  It's the work of an accessible visionary; a master you can relate to.    


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Perfectly Brilliant!

Art blogger Joanne Mattera posted an entry she calls The Artists' Stimulus Package.  You've got to love her for thinking of it!      

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pollan-ation! (And ideas about "good" art)

Yesterday evening, two of my friends and I were members of a very lucky audience to hear Michael Pollan speak at Columbia University.  In between passages that he read from his books, including The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma, he relayed stories about his progression from his early days working at Harper's to his most recent writings that explore our abnormal modern industrial food chain.  Afterwords, he took some time to answer questions from the audience - everything from his writing process to his thoughts on food policy and government funded farm subsidies.  He was funny, engaging and enlightening - everything I wanted him to be in person after reading his work.  (And I was proud that I remained wide-eyed and alert since the talk was happening at right about my crash-time.  I've had the embarrassing nod-off happen at even the most profound lectures...)

I also learned last night that Judith Belzer is Pollan's wife.  Belzer is a painter whose subject matter is influenced by the natural world.  You can view her work and read her artist statement on her website

When I first started my undergraduate studies in fine art at Rutgers University, I was adamant that I was going to be a painter and had very strict ideas of what "good" painting should be.  I thought that a rigid practice of realism was the truest form of high art and that skill had been replaced by concept, which I considered lazy.  WHAT A FRESHMAN I WAS!  Especially since I myself was a relatively lazy art student.  Fortunately I grew out of that sensibility and my eyes opened up to fresh concepts in contemporary visual culture.  And then the opposite happened - I began to reject realism and, eventually, painting in general.  Bring on the political criticism and high-concept invention!  Art in the moment!  Down with traditional mediums - they're sooo bourgeois.

Fast forward to the last 5 months: to my surprise I've not only returned to painting and painting realistically rendered images, but I'm learning not to judge and worry about what it is that I "should" or "should not" be doing as an artist.  I still need to learn how to marry technique with a unique visual language (I still think I'm better at communicating ideas through conceptual performance works), but I appreciate all mediums for what they are and how they communicate different ideas and needs to different people.  

Which brings me back to Belzer: fourteen years ago, I would have aspired to be a painter like her; two or three years later, I would have rejected her based upon my idea of what was relevant.  Today, I look at her work and not only admire her visual language, but I appreciate it for being absolutely relevant rather than simply a display of skill and technique.  Like her husband, Belzer is presenting us with a human relationship to nature.  And being that we may someday soon lose the opportunity to get that up close and personal with nature, it is definitely work that should not be taken lightly.                      

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More from "Rabbit"

I'm working on a new assemblage featuring Rabbit; above is the drawing.  This time Rabbit finds herself in a ghostly forest of tree stumps.  She is completely exposed, in danger of being swept away by any force.  The sky forecasts doom, but all she can do is keep moving.

Like my previous Rabbit drawing assemblage, "The House Where Rabbit Slept," I'll sew this drawing onto a found piece of plywood.  I've already sold "The House Where Rabbit Slept" to a friend and loyal customer, and I'll truly miss it since I've grown very attached to this work.  I'm sure it will be enjoyed by its soon-to-be owners, who are people I admire and trust.  

I'll be posting the above work on Etsy once it's complete, which I wish I could say will be tomorrow.  I'm usually too eager to post items right away but I think slowing down would benefit me (and the work) in the long run.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Talking About Artists:

Cat Tyc is originally from NYC and currently lives in Portland, OR.  She is a video artist, filmmaker and poet who has been known to disappear in a whirlwind of projects.  I first met Cat at a bar in Brooklyn back in 2001, I think it was, through friends of friends and fortunately we've been able to keep in touch.  I enjoy getting updates on what project she is working on at the moment; whether she knows it or not, her seemingly endless productivity is a huge motivation for me to keep making.  

Cat's recently completed a short film, Umbrella, that she wrote, directed and edited.  She hopes to have it screened in New York within the next two months.  

Check out two videos that she made for some local Portland bands:

I fell in love with The Feather Test, both the video and the song, after seeing it for the first time a few months ago.  It's heartbreakingly beautiful imagery at first appears to be highly stylized images of the musicians in their surroundings.  But about a quarter of the way into the video, a disturbing narrative begins to unfold of intervention, destruction or liberation - I can't decide which since it opens up new meaning every time I watch it.  It may be all these things, as nothing so emotive can really be defined in one word. 

That's the way I feel about it, anyway.               

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jack and Sashi are sleeping in - Jack's sick today.  (hope he doesn't mind me displaying this photo...)  I thought the two of them made a lovely composition.  And I get to show off an original Jack Cesareo - large, multi-canvas construct painting above the bed.  I'm going to marry an incredibly talented artist!  He is an amazing help to me.  I don't think I would be paintings as much as I am right now if it weren't for him.  (I had given up on painting altogether until recently.)  The little painting to the left is an untitled oil by me from 1998.  It's one of my favorites.     

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Time for Spring

The House Where Rabbit Slept, 2009, mixed media

I just finished this today and posted on Etsy.  I decided to attach the paper drawing to a found piece of plywood using thread rather than adhesive because a) I don't trust that adhesive works or is long-lasting, and b) I'm not always sure about adhesives labeled "archival grade" really being archival.  I also really liked the visual effect of thread sewn to the paper and plywood, and I enjoyed the physical process of assembling the work.  You can click on the image of this work on the sidebar to view more information about it in my shop.

Jack suggested that I may want to attach a piece of plexiglass over the work to protect it since it is pretty delicate.  I think that's a fantastic idea; I just need to find some and have it cut to size.  For now, I have it posted for sale as-is, which may not be a smart move.  Something to consider, but I'm tired of hemming and hawing over it.  Just wanted to show it already!  Another Etsy seller, Botanary Confections (, who sells deliciously sounding crunches, sodas and "dirty" sugars made with unconventional floral and herbal flavors, wrote to me that it's really hard to walk when they want to run.  How true that is.      

About the content of this little drawing assemblage: it's a sad little image.  It breaks my own heart to see Rabbit, small and seemingly vulnerable, noticing the imposing smoke stacks in the distance.  I worry about how fragile spring is - in my mind, it has become another endangered species.    

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Top: Splitting, 2009, oil on canvas, 20 x 25 in.  Bottom: Jack (No Left Turn), 2009, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.   

Friday, March 13, 2009

I was very excited to find this morning that the above artwork, "House on the Edge of the Lake," was featured in a member selected Etsy Treasury, entitled "i love HOUSE work":

I used acrylic paint on found 1/4" plywood.  The sky and lake are painted with opaque copper and gold acrylics, which make the surface iridescent.  I like the ominous, ethereal effect they create when layered over the grainy plywood.  For further detail, go to

Yesterday I finished my latest oil.  It's a 3 x 4' canvas that should really be re-stretched because the stretcher bars got warped from the gesso.  Jack and our friend Anibal were rendered from a photograph I took of them mid-conversation.  It's titled, "La Conversacion".  I should take a better photo before posting an image here. 

By the way, if anyone reading this can offer tips in the comments area re: digitally photographing oil paintings, I'd greatly appreciate it.  I'm having a tough time with it.      



Thursday, March 12, 2009


In anticipation...

...of the weekend, of an art sale, of finding work, of the rest of today.  I'm not sure what to do with myself this morning.  I set a few goals and they sometimes are met.  The rest of the time I fret about what to accomplish first, running my head in circles so that the engine stalls.  You know how it is!    

Some of my artwork is on sale at  In this diary you'll hear of new works listed on Etsy, but you'll also hear what I'm working on outside of my capital venture.  You may also get to read my fretful ramblings on current obsessions and worries (yay).  

I'm working on some oil portraits based on photos I've taken this past year, the latest being a portrait of my fiance Jack and our friend Anibal deep in conversation.  I'll try to post a photo when it's finished but right now I have to get back to it.  

Before signing off I just want to say that this little cat painting was my first listing on potatobanana76:  

"Rocket" really wants a home.  Perhaps someone out there reading this could be her perfect match...  

And I'll also leave you with a video I can't stop watching - I'm loving Julia Pott's illustrations and animation work.  LOVE the dance sequence in the middle.  And the song by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is painfully sweet: