Elizabeth Michelman


November 2021

As my Covid-safe alternative to this year’s Waltham Mills Open Studios I am inviting vaccinated guests to visit my studio on the following Sunday November 14, by appointment only, from 3 to 7 PM.  I look forward to sharing your news and new art discoveries.  Please text or email me to reserve a half-hour or one-hour time spot and mention an alternate time just in case that one is filled.  (I won’t be opening my studio to the public on the official weekend, though I may be around.) 

I head into 2022 deepening my venture into painting territory with larger, more expansive collages of sign-vinyl on aluminum panel.  In dialogue with British painter Howard Hodgkin, I’ve left behind the minimalist and pop concerns of my previous “mentor,” Stuart Davis, to look more closely at the dynamics between color and composition, form and formlessness, and content and frame. Hodgkin’s seductive, deceptively simple (and impossible to reproduce in vinyl!) gestural brushwork torments me with the anxieties of influence and forces me in each new attempt to find a path through the pitfalls of appropriation, interpretation and individuation.

I am excited to have two of my paintings here juried into the virtual 2021 School of the Museum of Fine Arts Annual Sale through November 4.  You can see them at smfa.tufts.edu/artsale and purchase through https://smfa.bidsquare.com/

Lot 340 Cat. 57: Elizabeth Michelman / Color Theory Series (Stuart Davis 11)_2019and

Lot 1795 Cat. 760: Elizabeth Michelman / Color Theory Series (Stuart Davis 13)_2019.

I also showed recent painting-collages from my Color Theory Series in a two-person pop-up exhibition/installation documented on Instagram by curator Liza Bingham at https://www.instagram.com/doorway_a_gallery/.

Recent writing:

I’ve interviewed and written about several gifted artists in ArtScope magazine in the past year: 

  • Louise Farrell’s giant fiber installation Fate at Kingston Gallery and paintings and collages large and small, old and new of Jo Ann Rothschild at Hallspace Gallery;   
  • Jee Soo Lee’s peeled-and-punched paintings at Kingston and Roberley Bell and Andy Moerlein’s sculptures at Boston Sculptors in my “Return to Harrison Street” (my first First Friday in SOWA at the end of Vaccination Spring); 
  • Lori Mehta’s paintings of abstracted figures at Beacon Gallery and Jeffrey Gibson’s summer-long outdoor performance ziggurat honoring marginalized and indigenous peoples at the De Cordova Museum; 
  • Antoinette Winters’ Zeitgeist-inspired texts in artist books, panels and works on paper, Laura Evans’s enigmatic sculptural adaptations of kitchen hardware and domestic vessels, and Roya Amigh’s paper-and-thread installations merging Persian mythology with a commentary on age-old misogyny;  
  • And finally, my take on Waltham Mills’ 2020 Virtual Open Studios.   

November 2020

Once the lockdown last March forbade me to return to my studio, I sensibly packed up supplies to continue making my “paintings” of colored vinyl at home.  I was grateful to have an empty bedroom where I could set up work. I expected to easily segue into another piece, and, for a while, I adapted.  But the walls were too close, the responsibilities of home life too impinging. The brash, impetuous child who prowls and teases me in my studio was nowhere to be found. 

I’d been ill over the winter and my energy was low.  It was hard to get started, and my painting’s sluggish progress dismayed me.  I made pencil sketches every few days for reassurance. As April advanced, I took longer walks outdoors and observed the sun rising ever higher.  To build back my strength, I began to shovel the leftover leaves into giant bags, and I bemoaned the bare soil.  

In the kitchen, I’d been coaxing scallion shoots to regenerate in a glass of water.  Worried about food shortages to come, and unwilling to venture out, I ordered seeds on line and planted them in egg-crates.  They sprouted slowly and indifferently, then all at once. 

I would need to turn new soil in order to plant further from the house in our lone ribbon of sunlight. I composted and fertilized and pledged fealty to organic methods.  I shifted clods of grass and pachysandra to bare spots elsewhere throughout the yard.  From my careless handling, few seedlings thrived in their new beds and containers. But each new stage of development raised new hopes.

My husband hacked down trees to let in light.  I moved stones and rocks, marked new paths, and cultivated around worn-out shrubs. I fenced in the spidering strawberries to usher in next season’s fruit.  Voles and chipmunks munched the arugula, rabbits nipped off the two rosebuds, and slugs invaded the kale.  A mother raccoon and her pups nested for a week in the hollow chestnut tree.  I watered faithfully, and probably illegally, through drought and more drought.  A coyote slunk through early one October morning. I slept better and walked further as the seasons moved on. 

It seemed that competition and insecurity on these levels I could deal with.  It was time to let go of regrets about the painting upstairs. I was waking up each morning pulsing with the changes in the plants and their surroundings. I lay in bed and formulated new projects for the day.  In a world determined to wear us down, the garden was a place for caring, reliability, hope and resistance.

It was humbling to work with scarcely any budget.  Instead, I divided and transplanted plants already successful in the climate.  I cadged and scrounged for cuttings and structures that I could relocate or repurpose.  I looked at other gardens. When I found a better method, I substituted it for the one I’d been using.  Given the time to reevaluate my past choices, I was more attuned and able to invent ways to ameliorate the old problems. I found I was acquiring new knowledge, taking risks and loosening my self-imposed constraints.  It was okay to learn from failures.  Don’t invest too much, don’t waste time getting angry, try a different approach.

Where my visitors notice the scraggly trees, the clumps of grass and ragged shrubs, and the crumbling parapet of a cinderblock garage jutting over the eroding hillside, I see shackles to liberate— tree roots straining under tired soil; vines choking the jacks-in-the-pulpit; stones waiting to be gathered and stacked in terraces to hold back the rain. Puttering through the seasons, I watch the plants grow taller, denser, brighter, blossoming in contrasting patterns and agglomerating into related forms.  I entertain myself by cutting and shaping, filling and emptying, and multiplying the possible points of view within a limited space.

Had I not let myself wander outdoors, I might have succeeded in finishing the painting upstairs. But the garden kept whispering of new pleasures and awakening new impulses. Today, I write looking out the window as the first snow loads branches still heavy with leaves. I wonder what next year will bring.

The garden has inspired my virtual, live-streamed project on Zoom for Waltham Open Studios. In collaboration with my good friend Tim Tsang, we are offering an equivalent to the drifting conversations of previous years in my Waltham studio space.  Please join us on Zoom, November 8 to explore that­­­ elusive, direct and bodily experience called art.         

—Elizabeth Michelman