Hot Lava: Family Pictures

Puppetry,  2017, Acrylic on board, 22" x 22"

Puppetry, 2017, Acrylic on board, 22" x 22"

Most adults of the pre-digital age are familiar with family photo albums, though these are now relics.  My family albums, especially the ones circa 1958-62, preserve visual evidence of typical childhood escapades. More significantly, when viewed through a lens focused on feeling, they reveal clues to the emotional reality that formed me—the world created, inhabited and circumscribed by my intimate family members.

Like so many families, ours looked good on the outside and my mother labored to keep it that way, thoroughly bamboozling me about our exceptionalism and sound mental health along the way.

Beneath surface appearances, however, dysfunction festered. These pictures ponder the inner life of a child sensitive to her often-perilous environment and the lingering echoes of emotional trauma experienced in the shadows.  It’s not the whole story, but it is my attempt to create, in the language of paint, a partial memoir of my emotional life.

All images, save two, are based on 3 x 3 inch, black & white snapshots, collected in slowly deteriorating, faux leather albums.  By inventing color palettes for my black and white source material, I am able to enhance mood and meaning, teasing out emotional truths petrified on or beneath the surface.  Other strategies include altering the figures’ environments and collaging together two or more photos or references to create the final composition.  In one case, I incorporate the final gestures of Pompeii victims, smothered in ash from the Vesuvius eruption.

“What if childhood is the reality and adulthood the fairytale?”  This work explores my own emotional through lines and acknowledges the persistent whispers of childhood alive in us all. 

Ellen Goldschmidt, December 2017





Interlopers: Unintended Narratives

I began each of the drawings in this  series with nothing in mind beyond the impulse to draw a figure.  I used no models, no sketches, simply indulging a desire to tap into my visual memory to find out what resides there.  Once I committed to idling executive function and following the marks to an image, a kind of alchemy occurred. I found that the quality of line this process yields is looser, freer, and more expressive than lines struggling to represent a specific object, person or idea. And the subject matter that develops by calling on the subconscious and the intelligence of the body is compelling.   There is deep satisfaction in marrying process and content.

Scale is key to my work.  Working large helps me tap into a physical understanding of the human body and loosens my mark making.  Scale also dictates a certain clarity and economy of execution.  It is a great teacher of how much is enough.

I never set out to tell stories. My characters arrive invited, but unintended—interlopers pushing their way into my consciousness, demanding care and attention.  Once one figure emerges, it calls forth another and another, or, in a few cases, insists on commanding the stage alone. The narrative ambiguity is intentional.  I think of these works as figurative Rorschachs, images that extend an invitation to the viewer to project a feeling, relationship or interpretation onto the characters portrayed.

In these pictures I confront my mistrust of fixed meanings and celebrate the role of images to provoke associations of which the viewer (and artist) may be previously unaware.  In this way we participate in narratives which we do not fully control.

Ellen Goldschmidt, 2014