Friday evening we went to a gallery opening at Washington Gallery featuring the paintings and drawings of Duluth artist Elizabeth Papenfuss. What caught my attention was the name of the show, Orion’s Geometry. Geometry was probably my favorite class in high school. Her playful titles like Einstein’s Tennis Ball, A Tsp. of Matter = Billion Tons and Solar Apex carry through in the work itself.
EN: When did you first take an interest in art?
EP: I've been interested in art since I was a small child doing drawings for my sister when she was away in college. So, probably age 3 or 4 on up, I've been doing and liking art making. When I began my first semester at Luther College I decided to pursue a degree in art and learned a lot about different media such as 3-D art forms like ceramics and sculpture,
EN: Where are you from originally and where have you been?
EP: I'm originally from Augusta Wisconsin which is close to Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. From a young age I've traveled out west to Washington and Montana to visit my sister and her husband and their family. I have not traveled outside the united states. I like the western United States the best and have been to a few artist residencies in Wyoming and California. I also attended the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont in 1993 for a month.
EN: Your titles are quite interesting. Where do they come from?
EP: I usually do not title my small drawings but since I was having this show I thought that I should connect the work with titles to make it easier for the patrons to identify the work on the walls. The titles for the show come from my interest in reading science and astronomy at an amateur level. For instance the title Mobius Strip makes reference to an elementary mathematics tool that I remember using, so therefore the figure eight looking shape in my drawing looks like a mobius strip to me.
EN: Your show is called Orion's Geometry. Can you talk about the geometric shapes and forms in your work?
EP: The geometric shapes in my work includes triangles, concentric circles that look like a shield to me or a target, small groups of stacked squares, lozenge like shapes that look like something called a leminscate(sp) or lozenge type shape or a leaf like shape sometimes floating through the color. I guess I don't have a formula a certain geometry that I follow in actually making the shapes, rather I rely on a more loose interpretation of shapes and titles to inform my work. I do like the shapes I mentioned above to emerge within the color fields of my work in such a way that they feel natural and not forced. I used the title Orion's Geometry because I like the stories that are timeless and ancient about Orion the constellation's journey through the winter sky. The sky is large and expansive and I find the objects such as the constellations at different time's of year to be very beautiful. I try to carry some of that wonder and mystery into my own work.
EN: Your artist statement mentions that your paintings reflect "poetic associations to spiritual and natural phenomena. How do you decide where they are going? Are you seeking to express something already there, or to discover something yet to be?
EP: The answer to that question is probably: both scenarios. I like to discover new relationships with the shapes and colors I use in a painting or a drawing. I like to use new media such as the small color pencil drawings to see if I can connect what I do at such a large level with the paint with the smaller more detailed drawings. I rely on certain shapes and color associations to inform my work so in that respect I do not want to much wandering away from my style of working. It is always nice to have "Aha, Eureka!" moments in art making and know that those shapes and colors will stay throughout the process to the completion of the art work without too much change. At the same time it is necessary to take risks to reach new levels of growth as an artist. I like to hear what other artists have to say about my work.
EN: Do you have a website or place where people can see more of your work?
EP: No, I do not have a website at this time or another way to see my work. Hopefully I can continue to make art work and show it in spaces such as the Washington Co-op gallery.
NOTE: You can see Papenfuss’ art next weekend both afternoons at Washington Gallery downtown Duluth.