Monday, June 11, 2007

Art Space Talk: Elise Freda

I was introduced to the art of Elise Freda while attending the Bridge Art Fair preview party in Chicago. Elise Freda’s paintings are seductive, headstrong, and dicey. In recent years she has been known for her using acidic colors. In a sense, Elise walks a fine line between prettiness and vulgarity with her abstractions- a balance between solidity and organic forms- purity and chaos.

Elise is represented by Ch’i Contemporary Fine Art (

Brian Sherwin: Elise, I observed your work at the Bridge Art Fair in Chicago. Your work was represented by Ch'i Contemporary Fine Art (booth 29). How did the exhibit go for you?

Elise Freda: Ch’i Gallery as a whole did very well. For me, the fair was mostly about exposure. Tracy Causey-Jeffery, the director and owner of Ch’i, gave me feedback about the positive response of both collectors and curators to my work. So overall, I would say the Bridge Art Fair also did well by me.

BS: Is this your first time being involved with the Bridge Art Fair?

EF: No, Ch’i presented my work at the Bridge Fair in Miami last year.

BS: Your encaustic paintings are a joy to observe. Can you explain your process... how do you go about creating your paintings? Do they start from sketches? Or do the images come to you as you work?

EF: Thank you! My process is two-fold. The sketching aspect involves lots of thumbnails. This is how I discover what is lurking in my brain. I use cheap paper and just pound out about 15 at a time, working very quickly. I accumulate piles of the thumbnails. Sometimes I refer to them before, or as I paint, but often I think their purpose is exploratory only. Yes, the images come to me as I work; I’m process–oriented, always have been. One time when I was in college I tried to paint with a step-by-step approach, doing a developed drawing where I established composition and color. I found that when I went to put this information in to a painting --I just had to stop. It was over. I had already done it. Ever since then, my painting approach is how I just described it. I need suspense and mystery. I don’t want to just copy something.

BS: Elise, when did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life? Are there any early memories that inspire your work?

EF: My parents are both artists/painters/textile designers so I grew up around art and art making. It was natural to draw; I recall making quite a mess on the floor. My brother and I used to draw together sometimes. From grade school on art was something I did ok with ---as opposed to some other subjects LIKE MATH. But that’s another story. An early visual memory that is still absolutely fresh is a visit to MOMA with my parents. I was standing in front of a Matisse and I thought wow, very cool, so paintings can have drips in them!! I was very impressed by that freedom I think.

BS: Your work often combines a solid form of abstraction with a more expressive/organic form of abstraction. Why do you juxtapose these two styles of abstract forms? I must say that is is rare to find an artist like you who can make it come together.

EF: I really like contrast. This continually sustains my interest. I like to see how I can possibly combine two opposites and make it work. Problem solving I guess. I have painted abstractions since college, and used organic shapes. Later I wanted to add some structure to all the biomorphic shapes. It took a long time before I figured out how I could do it. The absolute geometric shapes, with dense saturated color, are the direct opposite to my translucent organic built up grounds. Somehow this satisfies me.

BS: Elise, how has society influenced your art?

EF: Interesting question. I would go back to my comment about freedom. I have never wanted to feel "stuck", and sometimes I think society can create that kind of situation. Making paintings is my way of staying clear of any traditional paths or expectations that society might try and impose. On the other hand, I have absolutely zero interest in making art that comments on current issues. That is not what I respond to in an image.

BS: Elise, Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

EF: For me, art and creation is about tapping in to a place within; I paint intuitively. But I respect art’s formal nature. There are things that make a painting a good painting and of course I’m always shooting for that. And that striving towards the almost unattainable is ok by me. I don’t follow trends or try and figure out what the art market is paying attention to at the moment. I’m old enough to feel that’s a huge waste of my time. Art is a path and journey, a way of finding my way through life. Art is all about passion, awareness and continuity..

BS: Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working? How do you snap out of 'creators block', so to speak?

EF: I paint in silence. I live in the country so I am attuned to the sounds of trees in the wind, birds, and other wild life. I tried music----way too distracting. A cup of coffee and a jug of water are the only rituals. I’ve been struck with blocks in the past. I think it was when I was making success a goal. I’m much more calm, focused and balanced about art and art making now. Letting go is the technical term for this I think. It works.

BS: Discuss one of your pieces.What were you thinking when you created it?

EF: "Lotus" (image above), is a recent painting and I think Ch’i hung it at the Chicago Bridge Fair. I wanted to make a painting that had lots of glowing color and space, with organic shapes and lines coming and going in the layers. I wanted to end with an orchestration of line and shape on the surface that reminded me of water and plants. When I was a kid we lived in New Jersey, and we had a pond with lots of lotus flowers. Amazing plant!

BS: Elise, where did you study art? How did your mentors point you in the direction you are on now with your art? Were they an influence?

EF: I started my college education at Orange County Community College in Middletown, NY. This was the 1970’s and they had a super art department. This was where and when I started to get serious; I tried to learn everything possible. I spent lots of time in the library poring over art magazines from the 50’s. That was my touchstone. I loved all that expressive emotion and painterly abstraction and used that as a direction for learning to paint. The faculty there celebrated that thankfully. From there I went to the University of New Hampshire; another good art department. But a huge departure in aesthetic; it was all about still life, landscape and the figure. I think it was good training. But as soon as I graduated I went back to my intuitive home, abstraction.

BS: Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

EF: I painted in oil for years, layering and layering and waiting forever for each layer to dry. I sort of excavated my images. About 12 years ago I kept seeing wax on the labels of paintings that I was responding to----in galleries in New York City mostly. I decided I had to try it myself. I read as much as possible and then just plunged in. Encaustic opened so many doors for my work. It made it possible to build translucent grounds all in a day!

Fast and spontaneous, perfect for process oriented art making.

BS: Elise, where can we see more of your art?

EF: I’m working with Ch’i Contemporary Fine Art (, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and they keep a sizable inventory of my work at the gallery at all times. My website is updated regularly

BS: What was the toughest point in your development as an artist? Have you ever hit any major snags, so to speak?

EF: Making art is always tough. But it’s a pleasurable kind of tough. It’s not an easy choice of lifestyle, but a meaningful one. There are snags all the time, practically daily in the studio. It’s part of the process. Just keep going.

BS: What are you future plans? Care to share any details about your next stage of work?

EF: I’m starting to explore using acrylic paint in addition to painting in encaustic---I must emphasize----I’m not using them together in a painting---separately. I needed to have a change, add something new to my studio life. It feels right.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

EF: The art world wouldn’t exist if people didn’t make art. It’s there, and artists are in their studios. One thing I can say, I never think about the art world when I’m making paintings------only when they are done.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Elise Freda and her paintings. Feel free to leave a comment.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Unknown said...

Hello Elise
I like your works.
To me they are sensitive and strong in good balance
Best regards peter schenk

Anonymous said...

Fun interview. I really enjoyed all the work displayed along w/it.

susan braudy said...

Beautiful. Two of the most lovely visual things in the world --nature and abstract art--your paintings are wonderful to look at.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Two of the most lovely visual things at --nature and abstract art--your paintings are wonderful to look at.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Two of the most lovely visual things at --nature and abstract art--your paintings are wonderful to look at.