Elsie Kagan


My work is grounded equally in the history of representative painting and in contemporary concerns with materiality and surface. I sift through the history of western art to mine imagery that speaks to me in the present moment - and reinterpret its language to discover an enduring resonance.
 
My current paintings expose the urgent and all-encompassing twin experiences of motherhood and of loss – each a vast and varied landscape of connection, isolation, ambivalence, joy, rage, and grief. I am investigating the odd sense of time rushing by and simultaneously slowing to a standstill, creating subjects that hover between relic and living, both iconic and familiar. The sources for this work are quiet and tender Madonna and child sculptures and reliefs from the later Italian Renaissance, largely made of glazed terra cotta.
 
These pictures break from the tranquility of the traditional Madonna and child, instead presenting images in which multiple mothers and children cascade through the compositions, their idealized embraces interrupted by abstraction, replication, and incompletion. The work harnesses the power of pictorial space and surface presence, testing the line between representation and abstraction. My large works in watercolor and oil are physically active, corresponding with the span of my arm and the movement of my body. In counterpoint, smaller works I make with vinyl paint on panel are more hushed and contained, emphasizing drawing and mimesis. Color takes center stage, pushing in surprising ways throughout the spectrum and the limits of pigment. The mark making ranges from truly spontaneous to painstakingly careful, alluding to the slippery quality of time itself and the search for that fleeting moment of true connection; that charged moment when paint is at once a smear and a set of eyes looking into yours.