There are painters who pore over landscapes and portraits with careful attention to detail in pursuit of capturing reality with their brushstrokes. Conversely, some artists disregard reality entirely and choose to represent something that doesn’t exist—or more often, something abstract that cannot be represented at all. Both paths can lead to an understanding all their own, whether inspiration comes from something real or something imagined. For some artists, there’s more to be found in the process itself rather than anything else. Elizabeth Darrow is such an artist; she describes her work as “journeys of discovery,” wherein she loses herself in the act of creation.
“The act of making art, immersing myself in the process, was the most compelling thing,” she exclaims. “To bring something to life that hadn’t been there before was exciting, so I just kept doing it until it became a way of life for me.”
With over 20 exhibitions under her belt, along with an armada of group shows and invitationals, it’s safe to assume Darrow has never lost touch with inspiring excitement. What began in childhood as paint-by-numbers, Darrow continued taking art classes in high school until she majored in painting at Oberlin College. But she didn’t immediately settle for her processual approach out of the gate. Darrow tried numerous methods throughout the years, amassing a wealth of prowess and experience in the process.
“I’ve experimented with many ways of working, many approaches to painting,” she elaborates. “For a time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I painted in a photo-realist style. Although I liked the results, the process itself was tedious and not very exciting. I thought, If I’m going to do this, I want to enjoy doing it. So I opted for a different approach—something more organic and full of surprises.”
Darrow’s exhibit, “Fresh Take,” is a display of her newest surprises. A range of large canvas paintings and small paper collages line the walls, and populate Art in Bloom Gallery with whimsical figures, scenes of youthful fantasy, and curious abstractions. Despite the range of imagery, most pieces were born from the same process. Rather than seeking out specific images, Darrow allows them to emerge from the process of painting itself.
“I began with layering gestural stokes of paint until they suggested something,” she explains. “More often than not a face would appear. I’d develop it into a figure and the piece would take off. I began introducing animals, houses, cars—the kind of images a kid would paint because that’s what came to mind. On first glance, the images may appear whimsical, but they seem deeper than that to me. They seem to be about relationships, connections, reciprocity, harmony.”
Many of Darrow’s paintings evoke a sense of youthful innocence, underscored by a seemingly imperceptible yet resounding gravity. Take “Fly Away,” for instance, which portrays a young girl with arms outstretched in the act of releasing a bluebird. Gently rolling purple hills stand out against a swiftly darkening red sky, and push both the bright sky-blue bird and pink-clad girl into the forefront. Darrow’s handiwork manifests as wild sgraffito lines lend texture and movement to an otherwise gentle image.
“The Temptress” shows a similar-looking women offering an apple to a jet-black horse. Gone are the rolling hills, replaced by a blur of blues, blacks and greens to evoke a deep forest. Delicate specks of neon streak and flitter across the canvas in purple, magenta and yellow, and bring to mind the sudden movements of pixies. The haze of movement stands out starkly against the deep blackness of the horse, compared to the softer-toned woman, almost forming a barrier between two figures standing next to one another.
In this way, Darrow seems a spiritual descendent of Henri Rousseau, reborn in the age of abstract-expressionism. But this is merely one aspect of her work. Recent pieces see her abandoning figures in favor of encompassing abstraction, as well as stepping away from her role as a painter. In Darrow’s studio, the word “collage” has nothing to do with pictures torn from discarded magazines. Instead, she reshapes isolated elements of her finished paintings to create entirely new pieces. The end result looks much more like a painting than an assemblage of paper.
“The collages have a painterly quality since they originated with paint, but they’re actually scraps of paper,” Darrow explains. “There’s very little paint in the collages. Mostly, I’ve generated [them] by making color copies of random brush strokes or previous collages of mine, which I then cut up and reassemble.”
Once again, rather than seeking sources of artistic inspiration, Darrow finds them buried deep within the task of artmaking. Even though she manipulates her own paintings in the process, Darrow avoids copying herself. Her abstractions are far cries from the soft, pleasant characters and gentle movement of her figural work. She replaces the elements with complex arrangements of colors and textures. Even if a few tiny people pop up in her abstract work, they are drowned out by an ocean of textural movement.
“Many of my collages feature figures as well,” she remarks. “But, in this group of collages, I was trying to create pieces that were completely abstract, that would stand on their own as visually interesting without actually depicting anything—like a piece of music, a song without words. I’m playing with color, movement, balance, and design.”
Darrow’s abstracts conjure emotional equivocations. At first glance, “Benediction” is a color-field painting composed of intermingling reds and yellows, topped by a strip of blue paint. But a closer look reveals tiny handprints in the paint. Further examination exposes hidden shapes and begging viewers to lose themselves in the texture of the painterly ensemble.
“Fresh Take” will run from Friday, August 3 until August 24. The opening reception will feature one of Darrow’s pieces to be raffled, with proceeds going to Adopt-an-Angel Animal Rescue. Refreshments will be served and live music will be played.