Blending diverse methods and materials into vivid planes of luscious colors and textures with Elizabeth King

Elizabeth King’s artwork will leave you soaked in the layered hues that fuse together flatness and depth through unique processes. The artist’s work defies the rules of painting by creating a special blend of diverse methods and materials, creating large, vivid planes of luscious colors and textures. Stating that each material has its own “distinct personallity”, King uses methods of printmaking as well as painting in her work, while also incorporating inks and watercolors. Through this medium-merging, new elements and details emerge upon the canvas. In some of her works, such as “Off Season Hunter”, one particular color may dominate the composition, creating an incredibly satisfying composition while also forcing each unique mark and texture to stand out and be noticed.

King earned a BFA in painting from Boston University and an MFA in paitning from Rhode Island School of Design. Join us as she walks us through her creative journey — from the development of her craft to the importance of valuing your own judgement when it comes to finding your artistic voice.

AMM: When did you begin to express yourself through creative avenues? Did anything specific spark your interest, or do you feel that you’ve always been an artist?

EK: Growing up my family lived in a lot of “fixer uppers”. My parents were constantly consumed by home improvements. I spent my weekends being dragged to Home Depot where supplies were gathered for our latest endeavor. I remember being interested in the idea of buying seemingly unimpressive raw materials and transforming them into something unique. Seeing this from a young age made me assume that I was innately handy, too. I have always had a deep love for crafts, but I did not pursue finer arts until I found painting at my college.

AMM: Can you discuss your progression as a painter over the years? How has your process changed and what ignited these developments?

EK: I used to think of myself as a painter first, and a printmaker second. I valued painting as more important than the prints, even though the prints always informed the paintings. Annoyingly, the prints always turned out better than the paintings. Thinking the paintings needed to be more resolved, I always overpainted. I strangled out every ounce of breath from the surface. The prints retained air and space. I made looser prints because I thought I cared less about them.

Luckily, I realized I did not need to make a distinction between printmaking and painting. Why not print directly on my paintings? I stopped considering them as labels, but instead as different ways of making marks. Now I am making paint/print hybrids. It is liberating to be free from my old rules of how to make a painting.

AMM: Some of your more recent work is created from fabric dye and ink on canvas. Is it difficult to create compositions with such depth and detail with these materials?

EK: I was initially attracted to dyed fabric because of its impossibility for depth. I was aiming for a way to paint that forced the focus to remain on the surface. With fabric dye, everything gets trapped in the shallow weave of the canvas.

Painting with dye allows me to render the idea of representation, but ultimately the figures disintegrate into pools of color when looked at up close. This is how I play with my viewer. Try as they might to focus on the content, I hope they ultimately have no choice but to acknowledge the paint as paint when they stand right in front of the painting.

AMM: You use a myriad assortment of materials in your work, such as oil paint, acrylic paint, watercolor, color pencil and gouache. Do you have a favorite material to use, or is it contingent on the effect you want to achieve?

EK:I have an incredibly hard time choosing a favorite of anything! My favorite material is whichever one I am using in that instant. I prefer to have a wide variety of marks at my disposal at all times. With a full spread, I can greedily graze on a little bit of everything. The materials have distinct personalities and I like to see how they get along or butt heads with one another. My paintings are more fun to make when they start to become a thick stew of many marks.

AMM: What medium have you always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

EK: I am just starting to test out some new surfaces to paint on. I have let myself be experimental with the application of materials, but for some reason I have stayed quite consistent in my use of canvas as a base. I have a big roll of Tyvek burning a hole in my pocket. Tyvek is a slippery, water-resistant coated paper. Much of my current work relies on absorbency and I am interested to see how a liquid repeller will affect my paintings.

AMM: Was there ever a time where you were trying a new material or technique and something went completely wrong? What helps you overcome an artistic challenge?

EK: I sometimes tape a sheet of mylar to the surface of my painting and draw on top with oil pastels. This is my risk-free way to plan the next move. One time I unknowingly repositioned the mylar on the surface, but with the oil drawing facedown. When I started to draw again, the pressure transferred the existing marks on to the painting. I only realized this once I removed the mylar. I was shocked to see what had happened. It ruined that painting, but I had discovered new way of printmaking. Now, with more intention, I can employ this technique as a way of adding less direct marks.

AMM: Your paintings have such amazing titles, such as “DayQuil and Dimetapp cosponsored the semi-finals.” and “The Fountain-Maker Preferred Orange Sherbet.” What inspires these unforgettable titles?

EK: Thank you for appreciating the titles! I often come up with the titles, or parts of the titles, while the paintings are still embryos. In DayQuil and Dimetapp cosponsored the semi-finals., for instance, the painting is about a rivalry between purple and orange. I was searching for things that truly embody these two colors. I decided on Dimetapp because it is a bottle of pure liquified purple pretending to be cold medicine. Dimetapp even tastes quintessentially purple. I imagined what a sporting arena might look like if two competing cold remedy syrups donated a ton of promotional gear for the opposing teams. DayQuil and Dimetapp felt evenly matched.

I used to be incredibly shy about my titles. I was worried I would be spoon feeding the viewer, or stating the obvious. But now I see that titles can be a way to steer toward (or distract from) an important detail of the painting. It gives me a little assurance that the paintings will be able to campaign for themselves when I am not there.

AMM: Who has been your biggest influence as an artist?

EK: Edouard Vuillard. This is an artist that I have consistently thought about since I started looking at art. His paintings are a visual sugar. They are incredibly addictive and I can never get enough. Even his tiniest paintings are incredibly satisfying. I savor his surfaces as pure abstracted paint and unexpected color combinations. Suddenly, my brain does a somersault and I realize that I am so clearly looking at figures in a landscape and I can’t remember how I didn’t see it before. The longer I look, the more there is to look at. I aspire to make paintings like that.

AMM: What would you say has been your biggest challenge as an artist, and what has been your biggest strength?

EK: My biggest challenge is that I am a perfectionist. I have a tendency to overlook any potential happy accidents because I am so focused on diagnosing them as mistakes that need resolving. I am teaching myself to take turns sharing the control with my painting. Sometimes I have to take the lead, but sometimes I have to let the paint boss me around. Surrendering control does not come naturally to me, but I am pleased with the results when I do.

My biggest strength is the other end of perfectionism. There is a powerful voice in my head that tells me I must make many versions of the same painting. (This is an instance when the repetitive nature of printmaking becomes helpful.) The logic is that a better version might be waiting around the corner if I just push the idea a little further. I have stumbled on some interesting developments that would not have surfaced if I decided my first shot was my best shot.

AMM: If you had the chance, what advice would you give to your younger self?

EK: I wish I had realized earlier on that it is impossible to make art that pleases everyone.

Throughout my years in art school, I naively tried to take every piece of advice that was given to me. I had trouble differentiating between objective, helpful feedback and personal biases disguised as constructive criticism. I ended up with a schizophrenic version of the paintings I wanted to be making. Once I started filtering opinions of my paintings through a finer mesh, my confidence returned and there was more continuity in the work.

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Text and interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.

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