Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Name: Elizabeth Blau, painter
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts from CalArts in Valencia
Medium: Paint, pencils
Work: Home and a sense of loss are themes in Blau’s recent work. She merges abstract and figurative styles, resulting in works that are contemplative and almost poetic.
Exteriors are melded with wallpaper imagery, sometimes tarnished, faded and worn with time, bringing the viewer into the nostalgic and familiar aspects of home. The wallpaper, “good girl graffiti,” signifies decoration, comfort and renovation.
The homes are abandoned or vacant — indicative of the current American landscape. The work, she says, is topical: “The idea of home is so infinitely interesting. When everyone is losing their home, what does it mean? It puts these questions around the American dream.”
Though she draws from reality, imagination and memories, she sees her work as an open-ended narrative for viewers to enter at their own terms.
Though her subject matter might seem disparate — icebergs, home, hydrotubes (often used as water slides) — each body of work informs the next, she says. Her glacial landscapes, which explore ways in which landscapes transform, are navigated and remembered, also resonate with a sense of loss.
On Vegas: Born and raised in Las Vegas, Blau says she never felt a sense of cultural deprivation. “You can find resources wherever you are,” she says. She went to film festivals at the Winchester Cultural Center with her father (a political science professor who is now retired), saw “life changing” foreign films — “from all over the world” — at the library and looked at art at UNLV.
Intensely shy, she spent the early part of her life as a competitive swimmer, something she gave up in high school to devote her time to studying art at the Las Vegas Academy.
She learned discipline from swimming and communication from being a student at CalArts, a nontraditional art school where students have studios, learn to work as professional artists and demonstrate their progress through presentations. “As hard as it was, it was so valuable because you can’t do much in this world if you can’t communicate.” Still, it was a challenge for the former swimmer, whose nickname was “Casper,” like the ghost. She’d appear, swim, then disappear.
Blau, an elegant and beautiful woman, speaks with a soft, gentle voice.
On painting: The autonomy of visual art is appealing, she says. “It’s just your work and the public. With performance and video art the viewer is captivated. With a painting you can run from it in seconds or stand there for hours and be engaged as much as you want.”
On sculpture: Devoted to creating paintings, Blau says she couldn’t dare compete with the sculpture in the everyday world. “With what engineers create, designers create. Just look at a chair. Everyday objects are so exquisite. I wouldn’t know how to handle that. I admire sculptors for taking that on.”
On art in Las Vegas: Blau spent last summer at art residencies in New Mexico and Illinois, but she’s been working on her art in the Commerce Street Studios for almost two years. Soon she will move into a house with a garage that she’ll transform into a studio. “There is a lot of great work being made here, but it can be discouraging because of the city’s larger priorities. The art museum closed. That’s big. It was shocking, but there will be something else. There are so many heroes in the community ... It’s not all glamour and money; there are a lot of people trying to build a strong infrastructure here.”
Other interests: “A lot. Athletics, health, medical sciences, longevity, making and studying color charts and diagrams, studying maps, the storage industry — organizational methods at large. Native American philosophy, Victorian clothing. Wallpaper, particularly wallpaper that is peeling as a result of time. It’s evocative and compelling. Patterns, landscape, swimming, competitive sports as a cultural study.”
Sticking around? “I am. I have to stay a little bit flexible because I have professional goals that would require me to relocate temporarily, but I see myself coming back.”