Elisabeth Condon


My paintings respond viscerally to place, the locations where they are made, or places remembered. Growing up in Los Angeles down the street from a canyon comprises my most vivid sensory recollections, dissolving form in flows of light and color. In memory the Asian influenced décor of my childhood home merges with the canyon, as if plum blossom wallpaper formed the backdrop for its riverbeds and rocks. Many years later, Florida reconnected me to landscape with the same immediacy. From initial watercolor studies that captured the light and subtropical foliage in my new surroundings, I developed a language of pours and spills of transparent color to embody the moisture of humid air and movement through space.

Chinese scrolls from the Yuan Dynasty provided a model for unfolding time. Revisiting po’mo (splashed ink) techniques and butterfly perspectives, I compress the elongated formats of scrolls into singular canvases and substitute their empty intervals with color, collaging multiple worlds together and splicing time into sliver thin increments. Idioms for plant forms and flowers, which entail grinding ink and practicing stroke order, became neon logos and floral motifs adorning the planters and buildings in Shanghai’s 21st century landscape, where I spent six months in 2014. Painting immersed in a synthetic landscape where illuminated pirate ships sailed an inky, black river demanded glitter, fluorescent and Chinese ink. Unbidden, Irving Penn’s 1980 book on flowers burst into visual consciousness, as did the busily patterned wallpaper of my adolescent bedroom, influences that bring Chinese tenets of harmony and balance to western excess.

Confronting an illness upon my return, I spent long, still hours drawing bouquets from friends. Time expanded as an elastic continuum connecting all living things. Drawing flowers gave me new appreciation for the economy with which design idioms translate the natural world into comprehensible form. I saw possibilities in painting images with non-attachment, in the spirit of abstraction. Some years ago I’d asked my mother for whatever fabric and wallpaper samples from our old house she still had, to use as reference in painting. The softened samples dissolved my former bias against their beauty as a façade sweeping life under the rug or a solace to be resisted, as I began to see décor as a celebration of life and an exposure of complex social roles I now want to consider. The samples comprise a major portion of my aesthetic foundation, grounded in endless staring at and making tiny drawings inside of the wallpaper patterns when feeling subversive. Though commercial the samples appear humanistic thirty years on. Time travel, via nostalgia, identity shift and desire to learn a new design language compels this work.

Wallpaper paintings re-enact the ‘dance’ of elements in Chinese ink painting, balancing spontaneous pours with stylized plant forms and birds. Painting the patterns over and over again highlights various elements such as a branch or group of flowers as stand-in protagonists, punctuating repetition with human interpretation. My sense of scale skews large so I often zoom in on a portion of the pattern and since the samples are cut at pivotal moments in the pattern this allows me to step back and see the part as a whole. Overlaying patterns on pours, glitter and drawn imagery generates visions within the pattern, adding to literary tropes of feminine disturbance and forging topographical pathways through the painting surface. I am challenged to make space within the synthetic landscape of wallpaper, an unruly, non-linear, audaciously beautiful space tied, as the idiom is to the flower, to the experience of life.