I’m sort of obsessed with Eleanor Aldrich’s painterly lawn chairs, and in this lovely interview she explains how the act of making is central to feeling fulfilled, and that in her practice she seeks constant surprise and discovery. Find more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I grew up in the mountains of Arizona, but moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to go to graduate school at UT Knoxville, and have lived here since. I went to a small liberal arts college in Northern Arizona, which had a small art department, but I was able to study abroad at an art school in the Netherlands for a year. So that was really fun, though confusing at times. I have also been to Skowhegan, the art school/residency in Maine.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My parents are both artists, and so they would cover the dining room table after dinner with art materials and projects. So it was always something I was interested in and surrounded by. Making things and planning to make things fills the void for me- the way that shopping, or whatever fills that emptiness for other people.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
One major theme that is always with me is the tension between something that is real and something that is fake, or an image of something real. This plays out when I both sculpt and use two-dimensional conventions (like painted highlights) within the same picture. I think of this obsession as coming from my Catholic childhood- where materials were transformed, and images had more intrinsic power than they did as illustrations or teaching tools.
Recently I have been using the figure in my work. The silicone and thick oil paint lend themselves to bodily-ness. I render the figures mostly from the back because I find that painting faces is too specific or too stylized with these figures. The lawn chairs and hammocks they press against has something to do with returning the body to the grid of modernism. They also have something to do with my anxieties about my own leisure time in this late capitalist scramble.
What is your process like?
I crave surprise in my work. Sometimes it looks like I am all over the place, because I am always trying new materials and techniques, and working on different kinds of pieces at once. I get really excited when I find a technique that can shortcut rendering, or mimic something like skin or corduroy. I purposely use materials just out of my control, in order to work with its properties rather than having it submit completely to what I think I want. Often things don’t work out, but the results show me something to try to exploit in the next thing I do. Most of my advance planning is practical and chemical, and order of operations. I would say that right now subject matter is sought out to be the vehicle for ideas about material and mimicry.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I collaborate with the artist Barbara Weissberger and though we are several states away our conversations always make me feel like I am part of something bigger, that I am not so isolated in my Tennessee studio after all. In addition to being a great artist who is interested in the same illusion/reality dichotomy as me, she is enthusiastic, which always makes me want to follow through on ideas that I had self-edited. I think our collaboration helps me to not sink into making pretty or commercial work.
The comment I am glad to ignore was a critic who said my paintings are much better in photographs :/ but she was a performance artist…
What is your studio like?
It is usually messy- smaller than I would like, but cheap! and paintings are made on the floor. I share the building with 7 other artists, and though it was a barber shop in the 1920’s it was most recently a vacuum shop. The floor is a great black and white checkered tile that sometimes makes its way into my work.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Oh- you want candid?! Ok- here we go. I am lucky to live in part of the country that is cheap, and so I have the luxury of being able to work just in the studio. My husband supports us- which causes me much feminist guilt (though he is supportive of what I am doing). I struggle with the fact that I don’t have a regular job, though sometimes I teach and stuff. Sometimes I think it would be easier on me mentally to get a day job or have a baby to be able to account to the societal pressures that be for what I am doing with my time, but I also feel strongly that time is so important to art. I feel guilty (Catholic!) that I for some reason have the privileged of not doing traditional work when I know a lot of really great artists don’t have that opportunity.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Mysterious, funny, thick
What are you working on right now?
Paintings about painted fingernails!! The most pedestrian paintings 😉
Find more at eleanoraldrich.com and on Instagram @eleanoraldrich!
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