E L L A N I L S S O N
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Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
I have no middle name. I now have two last names. I grew up in New Jersey. Both my parents are artists. I lived in Tehran for a bit in the early 80s, as my father is Persian. As much as a bad rap Jersey gets, I'm proud that's where I grew up. It taught me the discipline and toughness I've been working on softening ever since I left. In college, I majored in Fine Art and Criminal Justice and completed both degrees. After college I moved to Arizona because I didn't want to shovel snow. Then in 2008, I moved to Austin because I missed trees. I love the sense of community here and how it feels like a small town even though it's grown a lot. I love raw carrots. I hate cooked carrots, unless in a soup or a stew.
Q. What ideas/people/events influence your work?
Music is unequivocally the biggest influence on me as an artist. I even have my go to bands to kick me off on a new piece. Lately it's been Queens of the Stone Age or Arctic Monkeys' catalog, or Of Montreal's "Hissing Fauna, are you the destroyer?" Words help me solidify what it is I want to say vaguely in artwork. I feel like for musicians it's the opposite; to say words with a broad interpretation left up to the listener to decide. Lyrics are one of my favorite components of songs, and help me "say" something in an image that a viewer can decide what it means to them.
People are my other main source of inspiration. It's fascinating to hear people's stories, of how they got to where they are. Often it's never what you expected, and that's exactly what i chose to explore in this new series. The theme is that you can focus is what's on the outside, or choose to learn what's deeper within. They are usually very different.
Another vast source of inspiration from me is my Mother. I love her artwork and she manages to create so much depth in her paintings. Her style differs from mine as well; she is very painterly and I appreciate that. She's a strong woman, but in a humble way, meaning she never has to shout to get her point across. She somehow makes you choose to listen and that is evident in her artwork.
Q. Your work seems to teeter between humorous themes and dark themes. Is this intentional?
Ha! Good question, I suppose I've never thought about it. Some of our greatest successes come out of and after struggle, introspection, and tough times. I think the dark stuff is a nod to that process and acknowledging those feelings and their importance. Life sucks sometimes, but it kinda has to for you to be able to grow as a person. On the other hand, the humorous pieces remind us that sometimes all you have going for you is your outlook, and a little laughter can go a long way. It's all a balance, and it's up to you which of those you want to give more weight to in life. (I recommend humor!)
Q. What is your process of creating one of your pieces start to finish?
I get my best ideas while driving and fortunately I have a pretty long commute to work. I keep a running list of concepts in my phone and when I want to paint I'll look through the list and pick whichever one seems the most appealing to me. I don't do a thumbnail sketch or really go into it with a fully fleshed out idea. I just want to start! Seldom does the final result 100% match the idea in my head, but thats a good thing; I like more of an organic process and letting the work develop as i go. I need to not look it at it for a bit and come back with fresh eyes to reevaluate. Sometimes when I know I'm close to done with a painting, I set a timer for an hour and then call it finished. And then paint for 30 more minutes ;) I also seek out my mom's advice; I'll text her a photo and let her make the call.
Q. What materials do you use?
I like to use a variety of materials, but lately I've been using latex paint on wood canvases. I like the viscosity of latex paint and it can take a couple coats to get to opacue. That kinda helps me finalize the lines and forms somewhere between the first and second coat. I try to leave some of the wood panel exposed in the finished piece. It's a good challenge for me because if I make a line or a mistake, I'm stuck with it. Unless I want to break out the palm sander and start over.
Q. Does living in Austin affect your work at all? How?
Absolutely! The pace of life here is laid back and creates more of a "go with the flow" mindset. Way different from the fast pace of the east coast i grew up with. I try to be regimented in my personal life and be constantly busy, being productive and working on the house or on art, but I really appreciate the spur of the moment "hey, let's do this!" texts and try to allow myself to relax and hang out with friends on a whim. Coincidentally, something fun always comes up when I'm pushing myself too hard. A sign from the universe to remind me it's always ok and necessary to take a break. Also, with music being such a point of inspiration for me, I feel like it's a perfect fit. Not to mention I found my husband, Ryan, a musician, here in Austin too.
Q. What do you do for fun?
I really love home improvement projects whether they be in my own home or a friend's casa. Anything from installing a kitchen, building a deck, to sewing projects and painting murals. Invite me over for cocktails and I may flip the hinges on your fridge for you. Also, I play in a national competitive skeeball league, which is a ton of fun. There's a ton of puns in skee-ball, (like each season is a skeeson) which is almost as entertaining as kicking ass. I love watching documentaries because I don't feel guilty about watching TV if I'm learning. My favorites are NOVA, anything about space, history, ancient people, and I'm really into this Air Disasters show lately. It sounds terrible, but it shows how aviation is made safer by learning from really awful events. With that being said, I love to travel. I plan on going to Greece in September for our honeymoon, and regularly dream of going back to Peru.
Q. Who are some of your favorite artists?
Roy Lichtenstein has had a huge impact on me. As a kid, I loved comic books and would spend a lot of time drawing from them. I think that was the initial appeal of him, but as an adult, I'm blown away by how his style can cross over to so many different mediums and be so consistent. From paintings to large scale scultpures, his style is instantly recognizable. I love the simplicity in his work and how he can convey so much in just a line. It's that same simplicity that I appreciate in street artists such as Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and Swoon.
Q. Do you have any shows on the horizon? Where can we see more work?
Presently I'm working on having a joint show in November with my friend Rachel, who is a super talented jeweler. I post information about shows on my site handybitches.com It also has my full body of work, new works and a little back story and commentary.
Q. What does the future hold for you and your work?
I enjoy challenges and can say I'll continue to push myself to grow and develop further. What that will be or look like, i have no idea! With this series, I've been trying to work smaller in scale, paint smaller, all while trying to maintain the integrity of the image. We shall see what the future holds!
Photography and interview by Cydney holm