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Shifting Perspectives: An Interview with Elizabeth Hoy

David Xu Borgonjon, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, helps make Wave Hill a welcoming space for artists and a stimulating experience for visitors.

In Elizabeth Hoy’s studio this morning, a diorama pinned together from strips of blue cloth lay by her window overlooking the iced-over Hudson. Inspired by the subtler tones of landscapes, Hoy’s practice as both a painter’s painter and an installation artist makes viewers aware of space and color. As a Winter Workspace artist, she is deepening  her relationship to a changing landscape. Along those lines, we began by talking about how she came to start picturing space

David Xu Borgonjon: Have you always painted landscapes?

Elizabeth Hoy: In undergrad, I did a lot of figure painting—I don’t know when the switch was—but I think I just got it out of my system. Now what I do is a pretty impressionist way of painting: I found out I can do the same view over and over, but it will change because of the context.

DXB: You make installations that act almost like paintings, as well—assemblages of canvas, paper, wood and other scrap materials. Do you think of these installations as having a genre too, like still life, portrait or landscape?

EH: Well, one thing is I like to pick complicated spaces, whether I’m making them or painting them. They’ll have evidence of human interaction in the landscape, like piles of rubble or the backside of things or bits of ripped cloth. And anyways, I think in some way it’s all the same. They must be connected because they’re all coming out of my head!

DXB: Not if you have multiple personalities…

EH: The paintings and installations have grown to be related, to react off of each other. They weren’t always like that. This is a departure because usually I make the dioramas from the paintings, but now I’m making dioramas first. I feel like when you make a painting you’re just editing the real space and collapsing it, anyways.

I’ve been really into [the late medieval painter] Giotto lately. He’s starting to show space in that time period in a new way. There’s that one panel from the Scrovegni Chapel [in Padua, Italy] where Christ is standing in the water. And you can see his legs through the water as if they’re in cross-section. They’re collapsed. It’s so weird!

DXB: That makes sense for you. You have all of these textiles in your studio, scraps of toiles de Jouy and ikats. They also have strange worlds inside them, spaces that are almost normal. This interest in space runs through your landscapes and the installations you’ve made, too. So, let me ask you this: what do you think of Google maps?

EH: That’s funny you ask. One project that I did in school—why am I telling you everything I’ve ever done?—was a set of giant collages of aerial views, drawing on Google maps and medieval cities. But I’m maybe more interested in [Google] Street View. I was trying to find parking on a trip to Material for the Arts, and if you go online and look at that address, it’s almost pitch black. You can’t see anything. That’s almost like an aesthetic choice!

DXB: I suppose that there’s a speed to Google maps that you’re trying to resist with your slower paintings, right?

EH: Well, the drawings and paintings don’t take too long, but the installations are slower, and this insane fabric collage [in Hoy’s studio now] is even slower. It’s like needlework. I have to hunch to do it. Different speeds help me figure things out and structure my practice.

DXB: You mentioned speed. Why don’t you talk about monotypes, since it’s a kind of very fast printmaking? You’re giving a workshop on this technique this weekend.

EH: Well, monotyping is basically making an image and then transferring it onto another surface by pressing it. I use it when a painting’s not going well. I’ll just press it onto another piece of paper. It takes extra paint off but also saves what’s there, so I have two versions.

I’m not good at printmaking. I’ve taken a number of courses but I’m not neat enough. And so, my made-up way of monotyping is my solution, because I don’t care if it’s all perfectly lined up. I just want to go back into something and mess around with it, and I’m fighting this idea of what a painting should be: nice, perfect, a “painting” painting. I used to make all my own panels but they took so long and I was so precious. So I switched to paper. Then making a print is another step to loosen up. Since I don’t really know how to make prints, the results are always a surprise!

I started recently going to a “Drink and Draw” event in Williamsburg. They’re not professional models, they’re burlesque dancers. I have friends that are musicians and they get together to practice music but this is like the artist’s equivalent.

DXB: Can you talk a little more about your interest in textiles? You have so many of them lying around.

EH: My day job is Collections Manager at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum of Queens College. I’m surrounded by textiles, and I’m fascinated by the foreignness of an object that… that I don’t know how to make! Have you seen the Bayeux tapestry? It blew my mind. It’s so long and just wraps around an entire room. The nuns are in 1066 and they already figured out all these things. Every individual looks different. The horses’ legs are shaded. And look here, the knights are in the water, and you can tell because they have no pants on!

DXB: Have you thought about doing work like that?

EH: You mean, narrative?

DXB: Actually, I just meant something that kept going—whether it’s really long like the tapestry, or repeats like the wallpaper patterns. Your work all has a frame, whether that’s literal or implied.  

EH: I have thought about trying to shift the perspective in my work and make it less fixed. It’s sort of interesting that you bring that up in terms of the textiles. I initially studied Japanese woodblock printmaking, so I would play with the Asian landscape, which has a different sense of perspective.

Join Elizabeth Hoy on Saturday, March 7, 2015 for her workshop, Monotyping the Winter Landscape, to sharpen your eyes and loosen your hands through exercises in drawing and monotyping. 

Pictured above: Elizabeth Hoy, Through staggering (detail), 2015. Paper, fabric, tape, oil paint and glue. 78″ x 92″. Courtesy of the artist.

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