If you've never seen an abstract painting that moves, then you've never seen a piece of artwork created by Elizabeth Weber. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Elizabeth channels everything she has and senses into what she creates, letting the emotion and the raw spiritual quality of life mesh on the surface of her canvas through vivid colors and a cloudscape of shapes. Elizabeth's work is currently up at the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group through the end of February in an exhibition of all abstract work called Life by Design.
Why art? There are lots of things you can do in life, why did making art grab you and not let go?
I did not then, nor do I now, have a choice. At least not if I am to maintain any sense of reason and function in this society. Which is interesting in its own way, since the very act of spontaneous creation involves letting go of reason. I remember a time in junior high school when the medium was poetry to express what needed to come out. I tried to never go anywhere without something to write with or to write on. I had gone into the grocery store with my mother. A quick trip. But, I couldn't even go a few minutes without having to ask someone for a pen and grabbing a napkin to write on. It all feels so urgent at times. Like, if it is not captured and in a sense, then released from within, I will not be able to contain it all. That happens with painting too. It seems that as soon as one painting is finished, I lie down and close my eyes, another one appears behind my eyelids. I only wish I had the luxury of painting full-time. There are so many that want to come forward...
I truly feel that one does not choose to be an artist. It is the thread by which the cloth of our life is woven. As an artist I have no choice but to create. For without creation there is no deep breath. No peace. No living.
And I think if you ask most artists, they would say that they do not have any choice but to do what they do. It is like the river encountering a boulder in its bed. Creative energy cannot be stopped, if a block is put up in some way, it always eventually finds a way to release. A river cannot stop being a river. An artist cannot stop “being.”
Pure creative expression, whether it is music, dance, poetry and spoken word, or visual and performing arts, is a vehicle by which the artist is able to access something from deep within and share it outwardly with others. It is an opportunity to share humanity with humanity. Artistic expression is a way to say, “Yes, I have felt that way too. You are not alone.” It becomes a conduit to another’s soul, another’s heart.
I know that it is my soul’s path to share my vision with others. I have no choice but to create. There is a fire within that I tend and the flames are constantly fanned. This is why I am here. I am meant to share this creative heat with the world.
Personally, I consider painting to be a large part of my spiritual practices. It allows me to turn within, to become one with the Universal Energy that is the Divine, to open the channel of creativity, and to just be.
If you could say there is one thing that drives your creative process, what would that be?
I strive to become lost in the moment, and therefore truly find myself. And, through that process, access something bigger than all of us, that connects all of us.
Inspiration, can and does, come from anywhere and everywhere. It can be sparked from a mood, a dream, an interaction or encounter, the way the wind blew through the trees and played in my hair, the warmth of the sun filling my body as it rose in the sky.
There was a painting, “The Song of Rain,” that came through one winter while living in Los Angeles during a period of intense rain storms. Los Angeles is dominated by vehicular noise on a daily basis, but when it rains everything changes. The rain overrides all the other normal daily noises. I enjoy the lushness that is created when rain’s silence reaches a point of contact, whether that is a rooftop, a leaf, the pavement, or your face, and it explodes into such a multitude of variant noises and rhythms. If you really listen you can share in its conversation, its song.
I approach each painting as an experience, an opportunity to dissolve the illusion of separation between myself and Spirit. I look at inspiration as just the spark. Once the fire has been lit, the source of ignition is no longer needed. It is just a matter of getting out of the way and giving it the space to grow and spread within. I would describe my painting as a window. A beautiful opportunity to look at and then through something into yourself and be moved. I hope that you take that opportunity.
For me, painting is a powerful form of meditation. I am able to completely let go of my reason and become an open channel. I become lost in the process and oblivious to the outside world. Hours can pass easily without my knowing, and when I pull back and look at what has come through it is always very exciting.
Most artists have some idea of where they are going with their work while they are creating it. However, there is always the aspect that the viewer will project their own ideas and experiences onto the work when they see it. Do you feel that you, in a sense, lose some control of the work once it is released into the wild? Is this bothersome to you?
If I am doing my job as an artist, then I am touching the viewer in some way. We are human, and a collection of our experiences, emotions, and ideas. We each have our own stories, yet there are common threads that run throughout each of our individual dramas.
I remember one day I was photographing a painting, and my neighbor next door said that it reminded him of fishing up in the Ozarks. Another friend, after posting the image, said it reminded her of this meadow where she loves to go and sit in the springtime when everything is blooming. For me, when I was painting it, it was sparked by the feeling of absolute peace and total surrender to a moment while listening to my lover breath next to me in the night.
I feel that was a really successful painting. I also believe that the emotion I experienced in that moment is the same as the one my friend experiences in that meadow, as well as the neighbor who escapes into the mountains to fish.
Do you have a preferred medium that you use, and why does it just click with you when you create?
There was a time when I worked mostly in clay. There was something about its organic nature that touched something deep within. How you could go and dig it up from the earth, work it with your hands, and then put it back in the earth with fire to produce something that would last seemingly forever. Think about archeologists digging up pieces of our pottery eons from now. Simplistic, yet humbling medium.
Now, and for the past 10 or so years, painting has been the best way to translate what I am trying to say in order to share it with others. There is something about the ability to build layers upon layers, take some way, expose others while veiling another. To make colors dance and sing across a canvas...
Pen and paper will always be an essential medium as well. And lately, sculpture is trying to edge back into my life again.
I remember in a graphic design class being told that after the class, I would notice graphic design everywhere, and it would change the way I see the world. For me, that held true. Do you think art has that power for most people? Does it for you?
I think that when one opens up their awareness to something their world expands. As artists, we have the opportunity to constantly highlight awareness. A photographer that opens our awareness to how moonlight dances on water or how the sun is capable of caressing a branch on a warm windy day, has created a new paradigm for us. Now, we start to look for these moments on our own, we expect to find them in our world. As a painter, I seek to expose something a lot less tangible. By painting how my heart experiences the world, I am sharing a piece of my very soul, in the hopes of making connection to yours. Then, perhaps, through that common connection between us, we have opened the possibility of a greater connection to others as well.
What is your biggest thrill at the opening reception for a show of your work?
I know it has been a successful opening when someone approaches me and shares something personal and deep about themselves that my painting brought forth. It absolutely humbles me when someone is overwhelmed to the point of tears. Real beauty, when truly felt deep in the heart, is cathartic. It brings forth things we did not know that we hid. It touches that place, and will sometimes name, that space of longing. If my work allows someone to go there, I know I am successful.
If you had the ability to take a class or workshop with any artist, who would it be?
A class or a workshop with any artist? That is like asking me to choose a favorite color. It can't be limited. And, I am not so sure about the formality of a class or workshop. For me, it would be about warming myself by the burning flame of the artist. Tasting their passions for life on my lips.
If I could, I would spend a lost weekend secluded in a castle with Lord Byron and the Shelly's. I would get drunk with Modigliani, Soutine, and Utrillo and stay up to watch dawn kiss the tops of their heads. I would hike for miles to bring Van Gogh some more pigment, and then lay my head on the ground, letting my senses fill with the sun and the wind dancing with the wheat, the smell of linseed oil on skin, the vibrations of passions mixing with paint.
And if I was really lucky, Frida Kahlo would take me as her lover and Georgia O'Keefe would invite us both to share a home cooked meal with her in a desert paradise.
There is the common idea of the starving artist, and this idea keeps finding traction in society today. Do you think there is any truth to it, or do you think it is mostly a myth that keeps being perpetuated by people?
Perhaps the best way to answer this is to explain what it means to me to starve. I have lived in Manhattan and Los Angeles. I have seen many very busy people, rushing to many different places, to earn the big paychecks that they use to keep designer roofs over their heads, fancy foods on their tables, the latest fashions on their backs. Yet, to look at them, really look at them, you can't find their internal light burning inside.
I have seen even more people also rushing to make it to their jobs in order to keep some type of shelter over their heads, some form of food in their bellies. When you look at them, especially at the end of the day, they look broken inside.
These people are starved. These people are not following their dreams.
What does it mean to dream? Can you live your dreams? Follow them? Pursue them? What if it means you don’t make a lot of money? What if it means sacrificing other things for it? Will you stay true to your vision, your dream?
I am not a thriving and prosperous artist in the monetary sense. That is not me, not yet. I can, however, speak to you about following my dreams, staying true to myself, even when it’s really scary. I can share what it is like to follow my heart.
I am an artist. I am a painter. I live to create. I create to breath. If I am not able to paint, an intense feeling of longing begins to build up inside of me, and if it cannot be released onto canvas, it becomes very difficult to walk comfortably in my own skin.
I have always created art. I have created art as for as long as I can remember. I spent all my recesses and lunches in Junior high and high school working on various art projects. I went to college for art. But I always did it as a part-time thing, something I would try to find time for, after work, on the weekends, etc. I worked for over 10 years as an elementary school teacher. Every day in my classroom I spoke to my students about how important it was to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. I finally woke up one morning with the courage to follow my own advice. At the end of the school year I told my students I was not coming back because I was following my dream to live the life I have always longed to live. I was finally saying YES! To my heart.
A wise mentor once relayed some advice his uncle gave him once. He said, when you have a very important decision to make, allow your brain all the time it needs to sort, analyze, categorize, and chart, all the pros and cons of the possible choices. Then when it can’t do anymore, thank it for all of its hard work, and then let your heart choose. That way you will never regret your decision. You will stay true to yourself. That is what I did.
It is not always easy. I get scared, and I am often broke. But when someone connects to one of my paintings, when they are touched, moved, and inspired by something I have created, and it awakens something inside them, I know that I am doing exactly what I am meant to do. In that moment I am rich beyond measure. Those who purchase my work, are those who have been touched by it. People do not buy my paintings because it will match their couch, or go well with their new wall paint.
Is it immediately prosperous to be an artist, perhaps not, but it is wonderful! My belly may growl, but my soul and my heart overflow with abundance. I am not starved.
It is an amazing and wondrous journey being a dreamer. It is not without its sacrifices though. Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I do not own a television. It is too much of a distraction. I often turn down going to the movies with friends because the cost of that ticket is one less jar of paint on my shelf. That new pair of shoes means I am without that extra canvas.
I have spent long hours, teaching myself how to build my own website, how to use photoshop, how to photograph my paintings, how to approach galleries, and how to pick myself up again when they say no.
But I am doing it. I now only work part-time, and follow my dream full time. I have paintings in an amazing gallery in town, and am showing in other states as well. I wake up happy and fall asleep grateful for another day of following my dream.
Can you say, honestly, that you are not starving in some way? What, if you could spend your days doing what would make even the long and tough ones seem remarkably joyous? What would make your heart happy? What would feed your soul and keep you from starving?
Sometimes artists feel that their studio is something of a sacred place to them. It can be very personal for them, and allowing others in can make them uncomfortable. Is your studio like this? How do you see your studio or workspace?
I think most artists would consider their studio spaces sacred. I can only speak for me, and for me, the studio space, or whatever space I happen to be creating in, in that moment, is a very scared space during the process of creation. Creating is a fragile dance where we coax and lure our muse out of the shadows from deep within. When I start a new painting, I have to do so alone. I need to have a space of stillness, where I can put the thinking mind aside and become a conduit for what is trying to come through in that moment. Later on in the process, after the path that painting on is clear, I can sometimes have people around me while I am painting.
I don't know exactly how to describe it, but having people in that space of creation while it is still fragile, is kind of like asking the rugby team in to the sanctuary for beers in the middle of a prayer service.
How big of an impact is music on your creative process? Many of the artists I know have to listen to music while they create. If it’s a big part of your process, what do you listen to?
Sometimes I need silence just as much as I need music at other times. When music wants to be present, it shows up as Dead Can Dance, Enigma, various instrumental meditation tracks, belly dance music, and the poetry of Rumi and Tagore being read aloud. Music needs to distract the brain so it doesn’t try and get involved in the painting process.
There are many other music tracks that make it into the rotation, but the main contributor is Dead Can Dance. There is something about Lisa Gerard’s voice that is transformational, transcendental. I saw them in concert a few years ago, and being there in person was amazing. In between wiping stray tears, I was frantically writing poetry. My heart was exploding and I danced in its brilliant consumption. So, listening to that music while painting is transformational in itself.
Black and white, or full color? What floats your boat?
I dream in full colors and surround sound. Color is tied in to all of my senses. Color for me goes beyond the theoretical in terms of temperature. I will close my eyes and hold my hand a few inches from the canvas and move it to feel the temperatures that the work is asking for. I paint how my heart experiences the world. Emotional experiences manifest as physical sensations. Physical sensations are colored for me. So, I have to use color. It is the only language capable of translation for me.
Thank you Elizabeth! What a fantastic read!