Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Art Space Talk: Dahlia Elsayed

Dahlia Elsayed’s paintings combine text and imagery to create illustrated documents about her environment, resulting in journalistic paintings as records of internal and external geographies. Handwritten text on the painted paper plays an important role in creating narratives between the panels. The work draws on her surroundings, informed by autobiography and landscape to create contemporary cartographies of memory and emotional locations.

Her paintings, prints and artist books have been shown at galleries and art institutions throughout the United States and internationally, including exhibitions at Clementine Gallery and the Jersey City Museum. Her work is in the public collections of the US Department of State, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, The Jersey City Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Hunterdon Museum of Art, Noyes Museum of Art, Montclair Art Museum, Newark Public Library, New Jersey State Museum, and Morris Museum. A large number of her works were commissioned for the permanent collection of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York.

Dahlia has received awards from the Edward Albee Foundation, Visual Studies Workshop, The Newark Museum, ArtsLink, The Dodge Foundation, Women’s Studio Workshop, Headlands Center for the Arts and most recently a fellowship from The NJ State Council on the Arts.
Achy Desire by Dahlia Elsayed
Brian Sherwin: Dahlia, your paintings combine text and imagery in order to create illustrated documents about your environment. Can you discuss your approach to art and your interest in meshing imagery with text?
Dahlia Elsayed: Text and image are very closely related for me. (Since I was a kid, I loved comic books and graphic novels.) Part of my process of working is writing – on a typewriter – first thing I do when I get to the studio. Those writings are then edited and edited more and become the text for the paintings. The image part comes next but usually I’m already thinking of how they go together during the editing time. I probably work more like a writer than a painter maybe.

And Goosebumps? by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: You have stated that you explore emotional landmarks with your work. Can you tell us more about the imaginative geographies that are born from your art, so to speak. For example, do you explore a form of personal psychology or philosophy within the context of your art? I must say that a few of the ‘maps’ I observed had a haunting quality about them…

DE: The map paintings use the visual language of cartography, which reads as official or scientific, but I am using that language to express something totally unscientific and immeasurable, like a memory, or a smell, or an experience of a place. I am really interested in documenting the parts of the landscape that are ephemeral- how do you keep the record of that? How do you tell the story of a place in flux? Also, so much of topographic and geographic language can be read as metaphor for personal narratives, it’s full of double meanings. Mountain pass. Flood Zone. Swamp. Peaks and Valleys.

Mid-March by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: Would you say that there is a spiritual side to your art?

DE: I think the work comes from seeing and the seeing comes from staying very connected and conscious, so I guess yes. Also some parts of my work are hours and hours of repetitive mark/line making so it gets to be a meditative action. Sometimes it feels like penance though!

BS: You studied English and Fiction at Barnard College and Columbia University, correct? Can you discuss your academic years and how they allowed you to establish a foundation for your art?

DE: They were both institutions that encouraged a high-level of critical thinking and expression, and I had great teachers there. I studied Literature and Writing, which just deepened my love of narrative. By the end of my time there I was pretty clear that I wouldn’t be writing in a traditional way, but that a kind of “story-telling” was always going to be the driving force behind any of my creative work.

And Then it Started by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: Am I correct in saying that your first love was writing? At what point did you decide to utilize visual art in order to explore writing and narratives further? Can you recall when those ideas first entered your mind?

DE: It definitely was. My mother was a librarian, so books were always revered in our home. I was always drawing with my writing, making comics, illustrating stories, but it wasn’t until college when I started doing book art and printmaking that the visual form started to play more than just a supporting role. I had to write my MFA thesis (150 pages of fiction) and I planned the whole story out using a flowchart and pictograms. By the time that was done, I was sort of uninterested in writing it. I felt like it was done.

Lucky Intersections by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: Dahlia, can you discuss other influences? For examples are you influenced by any specific artist or event? If so, how are those influences reflected in the themes that you explore within the context of your art?

DE: Everything influences me: signage, illuminated manuscripts, overheard conversations, obituaries, tattoos...anything that has a story. I think the two biggest art influences for me have been comic books and conceptual artists, the former because the story is so literally presented and the latter because the ideas are so purely suggested. They are very different, but in a way they are alike too because both have blank spaces where you have to fill in. I am thinking about those blank spaces in my work too.

Heartlands by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: You have participated in exhibits at Clementine Gallery (NY), Hunter College Times Sq. Gallery (NY), Black Maria Gallery (CA), Moti Hasson Gallery (NY) and several other exhibits throughout the United States. Where can our readers view your work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

DE: I will have some work in a few shows overseas this fall (Korea, Sweden, Belgium) and some in the NY/NJ area. All the info is listed on my website under current events. ( Also, I have work in the collections of a few museums (Jersey City Museum, The Newark Museum)

The Depths of Things by Dahlia Elsayed

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your current work?

DE: In addition to painting, I have been doing a few public installations over the past two years, that are based on memory and landscape. I have really loved doing these projects because it gets conversations started. I did a project in a beach town based on interviews with local day laborers about their memories of summer. It was a big sculpture in a park made purely of text. This summer I did another public project on a fence in Asbury Park, NJ, that was part performance, part sculpture. It’s nice to expand on the idea that I think about in painting in different mediums.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

DE: No, I'm good.

You can learn more about Dahlia Elsayed by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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