A CONVERSATION BETWEEN
KEVIN FRANCES AND ELEANOR ALDRICH
ON THE OCCASION OF THE EXHIBITION
FRUITS OF OUR LABOR; CHEW, SCREW, GLUE
Kevin Frances: Will you tell me a bit about your working process? How do you choose your materials/subject matter? Are you working towards a goal?
Eleanor Aldrich: Yes, I am working towards a goal- I used to be swept away by something that surprised me, but that isn't enough now. There has to be a logic- an autonomy within the work, but with an almost literal representation too, if that is possible.
I think a lot about drawing. I am an impatient person who also craves realism. I don't like drawing things out. So how to move fast- keep that initial mark-making and still wind up with something almost trompe l'oeil? I don't know because it is a new problem every time -but it is partly in choosing subject matter that resembles a certain application of material, or in using materials that are bulky enough to be real and a factual object in themselves, and partly in dealing with the support as an object. My favorite tool to draw with is the caulking gun.
I am attracted to the utilitarian, objects of labor and leisure. I carry an idea (like "mop" or "lawn chair") around for a while, and scroll through Google images of it. But ultimately there is no image reference, just an effort to combine actual materials together in a way that creates a pictorial atmosphere despite its three-dimensionality.
So the subject matter and materials both have to do some of the heavy lifting, but that said, there needs to be a lightness in both-as the work is really about the negotiation between the actual and illusion, the subject matter can't dominate, and the materials need to serve the subject matter too. But actually, they are very, very physically heavy.
KF: Have you become jaded about trying to surprise yourself?
EA: No, the mystery and surprise of making is always exciting, and that surprise is what keeps me coming back to the studio, but surprise in itself doesn't last long. The dangerous kind of surprise I refer to is that kind of open mindedness towards one's own work that can crowd out self-criticism. Sometimes there is a nice single-mindedness in making something straight out and leaving it un-pestered. But usually, it needs more work.
KF: Your formal goals, "the negotiation between the actual and illusion" seem a bit dry, while your work is anything but. It seems that your subject matter has a big part in that. Can you tell me more about the "objects of labor and leisure?"
EA: Ahh, you got me! The dry cynic- but that play between the actual and illusion is interesting to me, both visually, and in terms of content. Since my First Communion at age nine (the ACTUAL body of Christ), I have been fascinated with this. It has to do with that blurred line between fact and fiction, real and simulated, and- at the end of the day- mystery.
A lot of my subject matter comes from aesthetic memories of this tiny, dead-end town in Arizona where I grew up; its disintegrating buildings: the cheap plastic summer equipment bought from the dollar store. The equipment of lower-end leisure and labor is attractive to me- its physical similarities, and how you can buy it in the same place. Lately I have been fascinated by how many of the words I look up (things I think of as specific to that place and its people) bring up stock images that seem made to be generic and economically metaphoric: visual aids for business presentations.
My work has a lot to do with mimicry- which in itself has reverberations in identity politics- but I think of it more as mimetic, backed by an earnest belief in the transformative power of the object. I think of it sometimes as onomatopoeia, and the way a word collapses the distance between itself and that to which it refers- mimicking the sound it means. The human body is always implied in my work; its props, its bulk, its scale, its unruly fluidity, its wear and tear on objects. And, because I work with an immediacy, my tracks are visible- the paintings are a result of where an idea meets the reality of the material and my efforts to manipulate it. And yet, I am very conscious that I am making a painting, not a statement. A painting has its own relationships to class and economics. Much of my labor is formalist in nature.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Eleanor Aldrich holds an MFA in painting from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she currently resides. She was a 2012 participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. She has been awarded an Endowment for the Arts through the Whiteman Foundation, and the Herman E. Spivey Fellowship. Her work has recently been exhibited at the Drawing Center, New York.