We Will Always have the Ocean (2021)
When you live and make art on the coast, looking at the ocean is a daily activity.
Whether for sheltering in place, mediation purpose, anxiety relief, plein air watercolor sketching, wildlife viewing, visual research about climate change, surfer envy or selecting the best spot for the dip of the day…
It has become a major, vital part of my life!
The ocean universally offers refuge, oxygen, vastness, disturbance and renewal, grandiosity and interiority…
Inescapable subject matter in art history, it offers a formal visual system with simplified composition (horizontal focus), unlimited variations of blues, greens, and grays ( from the North Sea to the Pacific) and metaphoric connections.
In my ocean collage process, I often build up an oil painting only to cut it into pieces and reassemble it into a more abstracted piece while allowing it to reflect the tonal shifts, ephemeral swells, its imperfect fabrication and the capacity of painting to hold the complexity of human meaning.
“Always, unfettered man, you will cherish the sea!
The sea your mirror, you look into your mind
In its eternal billows surging without end
And its gulfs are bitter, so must your spirit be.”
(Man and the Sea by Charles Baudelaire)
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.
ENTRE FLEURS ET MER (2016)
As a 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.
BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS ( 2014-present)
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 reminder of the viewer's fragility and that of the planet.
NEW FIGURATIVE WORKS ( 2013)
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
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