Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
Mary Oliver

inner~outer Nature (2019)
Over the years spent walking in the Northern California coastal woods, stumps, drifts, bark pieces, branches, cones, fallen birds nests, dried up …mysterious nature remnants, all the “resilient things” I encounter on my daily “bain de forêt” have found their way into my studio…
The physical world’s unpredictable shapes, its cycles, fragility,  beauty, messiness, multiple textures and the many processes  of nature (decomposition, fossilization, charring, mimesis, decay, eruption, deformation, association, overgrowth) provide endless opportunities  to explore space organization,  meaningful marks, inner metaphors and interconnections with human nature.
And behind blissful phytoncide absorption lie clues of past trauma in a place of chaos where the whimsical can rapidly transform into the catastrophic ( fires, Atmospheric rivers mud slides
Again and again the exuberance of art making and celebration of Nature’s grandeur remind us of the responsibility for our land and its impermanence as well as ours.

As a “contemporary realist painter,” i am constantly looking for visual ways to explore shapes, make meaningful marks, establish color relationships, organize space, find metaphors.
Nature (“morte” and “vivante”) reliably provides multiple opportunities.

I have recently become visually fascinated by the northern coast and its unruly ocean and crashing waves, unpredictable currents, enduring rocks, ever changing contours and light, moody reflections, moving skies. Its ominous presence elicits both anxiety and comfort, unease and reverence, danger and trepidation,  a certain longing…
It is a place of chaos where the whimsical can rapidly transform into the catastrophic!  (and environmental concerns)
Contradictory emotional states get amped up!
(Which is what compels me to paint!)
 The intimacy of my seascapes is a humble attempt to tame this mysterious force.

Oscillating between intimate connections with Nature, I also look at familiar objects and their reassuring domesticity.
The things i care about, their tactile presence, their vibrant simplicity, their ephemeral power, their feminine modesty, the way I arrange them, the way they embody the memory of times and people in my life, their “hidden” little messages and drama, their seemingly unimportance…
Still lifes hold symbols, seasonal cycles, personal meaning, a sense of vanitas ,  despite their “no fuss” quality.
The same way the ocean does.

In the end, these small paintings are a quiet celebration of life, impermanence and hope and solitary bliss.
2014 was established to be the warmest year ever recorded on earth.
In her ongoing Beautiful Disasters series, Van Elder poetically records major adverse natural events and the constant flux affecting our planet such as flood, drought, tornado, fire, lightning storm, volcano eruption, hurricane, sink hole, mud slide, earthquake  etc…
The installation ( one hundred pieces) of her daily intimate grisaille paintings creates a powerful visual impact reminding the viewer of his fragility and that of the planet.

In her work, Van Elder starts with the visually familiar and translates the seen through the personal lens and touch, infusing it with psychological undertone and quiet contemplation, using references such as media images, girlhood memories, teen culture, fairy tales, fashion, old masters paintings, collage etc…to explore endless possibilities of figurative painting.

Dear Girls (2003)
Little girls are fascinating

In their innocent selves

They are mini snapshots of womanhood

They stand there in all their pinkness

With a strange familiarity about them

They depressingly remind us of something delightful

They are fragile and self assertive

They are comically exposed and feminine

They have ideas about themselves

For which they don’t yet have vocabulary

In their tutus and princess gens

They are in a continual state of metamorphosis

Ever trying on new possibilities

They are “big girls”


Girlhood is only a moment