Elizabeth Allen-Cannon

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ELIZABETH ALLEN-CANNON

Artist-in-Residence

 
 

My Time In Wassaic

 
 

I heard about the residency through some friends who had attended and said good things. Directly after obtaining my MFA at University of Chicago in 2017, I moved to an area in central Florida with little to no art community. I’ve been there about a year, and have found residencies are the best way to keep building a network with other artists. I sought out Wassaic in part because it is both close to New York City, and yet very far away at the same time. I typically work in flashe and oil on panel, and I decided to use my time at Wassaic to paint more experimentally and less precisely on paper. I’m hoping to take some new ideas back and incorporate them into my regular studio practice. Since graduate school, I’ve been contemplating new directions for my work, and I think that my discussions with this particular community of artists in an unfamiliar studio setting has helped me to parse out which direction things will go.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

Interview

with Joe Brommel, August 2018
 

You mentioned in your pre-interview questionnaire that you've mostly worked on exploratory sketches in your time here. What have those consisted of? And is there a more concrete project emerging from those sketches?

I started off by making paintings for this show that’s going to be in Kansas City in September. They all feature this character from this Silly Symphony episode, which is an early Disney cartoon. It’s this part-woman, part-tree that sort of looks like an early like Marge Simpson prototype. A lot of my work is interested in stereotypes of femininity — in what makes something feminine and not masculine, in the words used to describe femininity. And what I’ve been after recently is trying to get at the feminine without having any human figure in the painting, so I became obsessed with this character because she has these attributes of caricature, of cartooned femininity, and by studying and painting her over and over again maybe that's a way to figure out what's there.

At most residencies I've been at, I found that it’s not convenient to make work that is perfectly polished. Especially in these spaces — they're sort of dirty, and it makes me want to work in a way that's a little less precious.


You also mentioned in your pre-interview questionnaire that your works are “vaguely about femininity.” Why “vaguely”?

Well, I think about femininity all the time, but I'm not sure it's always super clear to the viewer in my work. And I think I'm now in a pretty confusing place where it's hard for me to tell where the paintings are going to go. I'm sort of following their lead. Maybe femininity as a subject matter is something I’m starting to leave behind.


That’s an interesting window into your process. Do you usually start with this more exploratory phase and then “follow the lead” of the works themselves? Or is that something that's been more recent?

A little of both, but I'm moving away from the planned work these days. Prior to graduate school I made very detailed sketches and knew exactly what the work was going to look like. But then through a desire of my own and the encouragement of my professors in grad school, I pushed myself to respond a little more to the process of the work. Sometimes when you're relying so much on a well-executed plan you end up stalling a lot. I think I just got a little tired of the waiting around for the perfect solution in order to make work.


And the idea of trying to capture femininity without a human figure — what is femininity when abstracted away from the human figure?

Well, one thing I’ve read that’s stuck with me is this text by Iris Marion Young called "Throwing Like a Girl." She talks about how, as a woman, you're conditioned from a very early age to go through life in a certain way, to not enter into spaces in quite the same way as a man. She explains this experience of not really being taught to follow through on throwing a baseball. The interesting thing about femininity is that it's always changing — my experience of growing up is much different than hers because she’s older than me — but I've had similar experiences and heard other women echo her experience, like when on the subway men are stretching their legs out while women try to take up as little space as possible.

So I think cartoons are a really interesting place for femininity, because it poses this question of how do you exaggerate something that is always trying to hide or conceal or control itself? How does a feminine character participate in slapstick and the pratfall, if it renders them incorrectly feminine?

 
 

I think I just got a little tired of the waiting around for the perfect solution in order to make work.
— Elizabeth Allen-Cannon
 
 
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That seems to directly relate to your Native Tongues project.

Yeah, so I actually started that when I was in college, which was a really long time ago now. I was taking coloring books and making collages with them. I made around four and I really liked them, but I set them aside for a few years. But then I came across a bunch of vintage coloring books that were different, so I made some more collages for three or four years until I had about 30–32 of them. And all along the way I’d heard “you should really turn this back into a coloring book.” Which I was on the fence about because I'm not trying to push coloring books as a method of art education.

But I was interested in digesting something and then throwing it up again, which is kind of what the collages do. All these really weird things start to happen, and some of them feel spooky or dark. There's a lot of feminine figures in them, a lot of Disney Princesses — but also, like, Barbie mixed with the Kool-Aid Man. Some interesting mashups. I think that’s what makes collage so interesting: two things next to each other making a third meaning.

So that was something that ended up really coming full-circle — the collages themselves took on a life of their own and made themselves back into a coloring book.


And what have you been working on in your time here?

I originally came without most of my art supplies. I’m always trying to pare down and expand one element in my work, which is the opposite of everything that comes natural to me. I liked the color scheme of the last painting I made, so I had this desire to only paint from these six colors — to use a limited palette.

You can see in the paintings that they're maybe using some of the same colors, but there was this real explosion that happened when I got here. I brought a lot of paper, and ended up just stretching the paper and painting on that — which is nice because you can paint a lot quicker.

I've also been doing this pointillism thing with the paint. It happened in part because I was watching these low-res, pixel-y cartoons on Youtube, and the degraded digital image felt like it was relating back to a passé Seurat painting or something. Which is something I'm interested in with my work: not quite nostalgic or sentimental, but things that feel old, not in good way.

 
 

That’s what makes collage so interesting: two things next to each other make a third meaning.
— Elizabeth Allen-Cannon
 
 
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Photos by Verónica González Mayoral