“Dreams are my sustenance.” (An Interview with Alexandra Eldridge)
For Half Mystic Journal's fourth issue, we wanted to see just what grazioso could embody in its returning, in its reaching out. Our featured artist brought us that understanding of many meanings—along with her keen eye for the liminal and the lovely. We are so glad to have her with us in this journey back to brightness. Please give the warmest of welcomes to our fourth featured artist, Alexandra Eldridge.
HM: Issue IV is driven by the theme of Grazioso: "the dream-bright waltz – the soft-stained song – the place where sunlight settles & nothing really hurts." As an artist, what is your connection with dreams?
AE: Dreams are my sustenance. They dislodge our rational mind. The nightly visions over which we have no control often speak louder than the workings of daily conscious life for me. Sometimes I paint a dream exactly as remembered. Other times in the act of painting, I enter a waking dream. The veil is thin between the two.
What is one bright place—literal or metaphorical—that you long to return to, even just to visit?
The World of the Imagination, symbolic and visionary, is a vast and brilliant land I long to return to as often as possible. Rich soul experiences in the form of human encounters, music, art, poetry, etc. are the vehicles that take me there. “The land of dreams is better far above the light of the morning star” – so said William Blake.
Tell us about three songs that changed the way you make art.
Arvo Part's Fur Alina has given me the confidence to know that the deep meditative and mournful expression can carry with it great faith and hope as well. And it can be said with simplicity.
The music of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós has filled my studio with an otherworldly, sparse, and ethereal soundscape for years. Often there are no titles, and they have even created their own language and play the guitar with a bow. So giving the name of one song seems unnecessary. Sometimes while listening, I feel as if they are inventing sounds I have never heard. This inspires me to expand, maybe even with a certain naïveté, into the unknown with more surety.
Antony, from Antony and the Johnsons, singing Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will," is another transformative piece of music. I am not sure I have ever been so devastated by any performance. The otherworldly voice, the words of a true bard and its message, break open my heart. Why else have a voice than to sing praises! William Blake declares, "Praise is the practice of Art." "Let the rivers fill, let the hills rejoice." All nature joins in! And the magnificence of music can bind all of us, in our "rags of light," near to one another. I am inspired to attempt the same in my work.
In your artist's statement, you describe your artworks as settings where "paradox reigns." Why do you choose to emphasize the contradictory?
"Truth is paradox," says Henry Miller. I choose to embrace both the dark and the light… the creative tension of the two. Some traditions have this inherent in them. The Hindu Goddess Kali is both the nurturer and the devourer. Carl Jung spoke of holding the tension of the opposites. Therein lies the charge, where something new is born. Last year I did a series of paintings that involved printing a statue of the Virgin Mary on old Chinese scrolls. I gave her the head of a stag, of Ganesh, of a rabbit and added elements of sacred mushrooms, birds, and snakes. My goal was to return the fixed, accepted, heavenly view of the Virgin to earth amongst the plant and animal kingdoms. This offered a new way of seeing.
Later in the statement, you explain that for you, "the process of painting parallels the movement of psyche." In your view, can music play a similar role? If so, what impact does it have?
I understand "psyche" as both the conscious and unconscious at work. The Soul, Spirit, or Mind. Whatever is occupying my psyche, my innermost self, will show up on the canvas. Similarly, I will orchestrate the music I play to parallel these states of being. The music will almost always, without fail, amplify the mood and become an ally in my creative process. It is an act of grace.
Your work often features recurring symbols or motifs—like birds, for example. What is the role of such motifs in your creative life? What is your advice to artists noticing a pattern of images continually resurfacing in their own work?
Having had parents who were painters, I have been blessed with encouragement from an early age. In my studio hangs a drawing of a bird with my father's handwriting below, "Alexandra drew this when she was 4." Could that first recognition have informed what I paint? I have been creating my own symbology for many years. Endless birds, rabbits, deer, ladders, eggs, hourglasses, chairs, dresses occur over and over in different contexts. The deer has held candles in its antlers as it took on a shamanic role. It has been the color blue and sat at the foot of an empty throne. I have placed a deer on an egg floating in the sky and even used her as a self portrait. A continual deconstructing of the symbol that offers direct access to the Imagination is the key. The symbol should be inexhaustible. We as artists must keep the symbol fresh and continually breathe new life into it.
Many of your pieces vary in terms of artistic medium; some are paintings, some are collages, and so on. How do you determine what medium a piece needs to be in?
The practice of art has been such a constant in my life that the works speaks to me as much as I create the work. I usually become obsessed with some new technique, i.e., painting with Venetian Plaster, crackling it, embedding ephemera in it, adding dry pigments and that determines much of where the painting may go. Or using house paints led me into more abstraction. My photo based work has taken me into newly discovered imagery. The medium and imagery seem to know each other's needs.
You sometimes use words in your art—albeit sparingly. When do you know that a piece requires words to complete it? How do you go about choosing those words?
I have always been a lover of poetry. The words most often used will be from my mentor, William Blake. I was part of a community based on Blake, and we read him daily. Sometimes the words will serve as texture, other times to deepen the meaning. Sometimes there needs to be more articulation… a respite from the diffuse awareness that I, as an artist, most often operate in.
Where are you going from here? What are you taking with you?
I am very excited about the work for my most recent show that will be in October in Marfa, Texas. I was given a large group of glass plate negatives from 1900 taken in a children's portrait studio. After scanning, they have been printed in a large format on tyvek and mounted on wood panels.
By adding wings, moons, animal allies, and much more to these children that are no longer with us, this re-imagining has become a meditation on death and resurrection.
Bio: Alexandra Eldridge, born of artist parents, received her BA in Art and Literature at Ohio University. She co-founded an establishment for the arts, Golgonooza, based upon the philosophies of William Blake. She has had over 40 solo shows and has participated in many group shows throughout the U.S., as well as many international exhibitions.
She has exhibited in Paris, London, Belgrade, Ljubljana, New York, California, and Santa Fe. Alexandra has painted murals in the Place de Vosges, Paris, and her work has been used for the cover of twenty books of poetry. Traveling, as an important part of her inspiration, has led her to artist’s residencies on the Island of Elba, Italy, and the Valparaiso Foundation in Spain. Alexandra has been featured in Art News, Art LTD, Art On Paper, New American Painting, and American Art Collector. Her work can be found in the collections of William Hurt, Steve Buscemi, and Edie Falco, along with many other prestigious collections.
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