Elisabeth Condon: Tempus Fugit
December 3 - February 3, 2023
Reception: Sunday, December 3, 2023, 12-4PM
She experiments with all number of techniques and applications, creating intricate compositions that layer numerous moves.
Elisabeth Condon: Tempus Fugit
Emerson Dorsch is proud to announce Tempus Fugit, a new solo exhibition by Elisabeth Condon. Known for a style that marries joy in the mark of unfurling ribbons of paint with landscape and more recently with elements of bourgeois decoration, Condon’s new paintings channel freedom found when boundaries break down.
We at Emerson Dorsch have witnessed Elisabeth Condon’s painterly lexicon grow over the last seventeen years of working together. Here’s a primer. Condon associates seasonal migrations between her studios in New York and Florida with the way both landscape and time are represented in 5th Century Tang Dynasty paintings. Frequent travel to residencies around the world have reinforced her impressions. This led her to incorporate both landscape elements and Chinese brushwork into many of her compositions. She often begins her paintings with the mark of poured paint, a planned accident around which she builds the composition. This mark bears the legacy of Abstract Expressionists, especially Sam Francis and Helen Frankenthaler, and their painterly form and philosophy. These forms can cohere into psychedelic visions or other openings for transcendence, for even in moments of rebellion, it is the transcendence that she’s always after.
Meditations on childhood rebellion led Condon to interrogate what she was rebelling against. In brief, the object of her rebellion was the bourgeois, patriarchal, and stringent religious constraints she grew up with. The most potent symbol of those constraints became décor elements, especially the lattice motif, a pattern in her childhood home in Los Angeles. Finally, color and paint. Elisabeth Condon has a savant’s fluency in color and viscosity. She can identify exact hues; Hansa Yellow Medium is PY83 and also dialaride yellow. She experiments with all number of techniques and applications, creating intricate compositions that layer numerous moves. The paintings for Tempus Fugit have her at the peak of her powers.
In Tempus Fugit, Condon connects the idea of ephemerality in Chinese scroll painting to the spontaneity of how scrolls are made. They are also original historical objects that were once precious décor but that move in and out of fashion. Abstract painting is like this – its profile in the art world ebbs and flows. Consider Abstraction’s headiest era, in the 1950s, at the zenith of the United States’ artistic and political influence. Now, in her periods of doubt, Condon wonders whether Abstraction is just “a provisional residue or something to be mixed with other things.” Whether it’s just part of the décor.
Wrestling with the legacy of her mother’s domestic interior design meant also questioning why interior design repelled her. After all, it represents an enormous industry with its own histories and legacies. In addition, the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s and 80s, and artists influenced by them, have grappled with these very questions. Why is there a hierarchy between high art and decoration? Now in her 60s, with the advantage of perspective, achieved, in part, through previous series of paintings, Condon delves into discourses around hierarchies, patriarchy and feminism as related to her life and the art world at large. What was once a trellis wallpaper motif in her mother’s house would take various guises in successive paintings. A screen with perforations through which a beyond could be imagined. A strangling prison. An active constraint, but one with amorphous holes where one might escape. A support against which flowers can grow and die. Then, with décor as a foil, she gradually reintroduces elements of the landscape, whether from New York City, the florist, or her fecund, nearly wild garden in Tampa.
Condon spent the summer in her Tampa studio to make this show. Some of the paintings, she says, are about Florida, “painting in the summer with the green light of plants.” The extraordinary heat sits over the South like a dome, and yet there’s beauty too. That light from the sun shining past the leaves and the butterflies. At the same time, though, she watched all-too-real seeming apocalyptic television shows aware that her mother, who was in her 90s, was nearing the end of her life.
This Fall, Condon began blocking out a large parallelogram in the middle of the large painting now called Curtain. In it, she had planned to trace a representation of her childhood bedroom, a Laura Ashley-like paradise of toile. Her mother passed away. Condon left for Los Angeles, and when she returned couldn’t fill the empty space in the middle of her painting. But it wasn’t empty. She blocked the shape out with a tarp, and the pour seeped through the tape, leaving impressions of the creases in the tarp. Those marks, in a regular grid, contrast with the grid-adjacent pattern of the lattice in other paintings. Her response? She accentuated those new marks.
After finishing Curtain, Condon said she had an epiphany:
“The more I read about women artists in the sixties and seventies, the more I realize that to claim being an artist was for them an active form of feminism. There’s an aspect of pouring and tidying in my own process that I now understand is to paint myself through my own social conditioning, conditioning in religion to domination and submission.
I take transcendence for granted vis-à-vis painting. Painting is a form of working toward it. It’s no surprise that calligraphy and mountain-water painting are meditative techniques involving mindfulness. Through lattice and pour, I explore the dynamic of feeling and thinking.”