Our current show in Lily’s Bar is part installation, part paintings by Brooklyn based artist Elisa Jensen. Her travels back home to Denmark have inspired her work. We navigate through her journey of brilliant visions.
What is the most important part of your morning routine?
I generally wake up at 6:00 and read the newspaper with coffee in bed with my husband. It is a quiet peaceful time that I treasure each day, I get to listen to the birds and watch the sunrise.
Where do you look to for ideas?
The world around us is so rich in ideas and imagery. I have been very inspired by ancient art from Ireland and Denmark, but I feel that it is our particular moment, the events of today and my own responses to those events that fuels my work. In a way, I’m using ancient symbols to harness the emotion, wonder and outrage that I feel about our contemporary environment and predicament.
What stories are currently inspiring you?
I’m fascinated with the ancient oral traditions of Ireland and Scandinavia, Irish mythology and early poetry, Nordic Poetic Eddas, Icelandic sagas, and books about Neolithic and bronze age culture. I keep going back to these, I feel like I am discovering new things all the time. The art, artifacts and ancient sites from the pre-historic period are so powerful in their imagery, they are so rich symbolically.
What is your process like when you start a new painting?
I draw and write constantly in my sketchbooks, I review the sketchbooks often, adding new notes and drawings, these books are my greatest source. So most often the painting is part of a process that is ongoing, an image captures my imagination, something I have been thinking about, maybe obsessing about, reading about, making drawings of, until it gets to the point where the painting must be made.
What role does nature play in your work?
I’m inspired by nature constantly. Living in the city – I live in Greenpoint and my studio is just a few blocks from where I live – you would think that we don’t really have nature here, it’s just a concrete jungle, but we do. In Brooklyn the sky is so beautiful, I feel that the sky saves me sometime when I am discouraged. It can be so magical, the birds, I feel like they are a miracle, I never tire of watching them. Trees swaying in the wind, leaves falling, yesterday an amazing brightly colored moth was sitting on my door. Maybe because we are not overwhelmed by nature in the city, each encounter with the beauty of nature feels significant and special. I often feel a need to be near the water, so I walk down to the waterfront to see the east river, smell the air and feel the wind.
Who are your greatest supporters and how do they express their support?
My family and friends are my biggest supporters. They show their support every day, they’re interested in my work and ideas, they want to see what i’m doing and talk about it. I’m so thankful for that.
I am also very grateful to the collectors who have been so supportive of my work. I think of them as partners in the creative process — collecting is an art form all its own, and like all art, it requires real vision and a force of will.
Can you talk about your works’ relationship to darkness and light?
I feel like you need one to have the other. My work pulls light out of the darkness. The gold shines bright against the deep blue field, without the deep blue field, the gold would lose much of its magic.
Tell us about a travel experience that changed your perspective in some way, big or small?
I have traveled to Denmark quite a lot to visit family since I was a child, and that has had a huge impact on me throughout my life. I grew up in America, but I have a different perspective because of my experience and connection to Denmark. Being in the landscape there has had a huge impact on me as an artist. Visiting Ireland has also been very important, one of my most profound experiences with art was visiting Loughcrew passage graves walking the entire site and seeing the Neolithic stone carvings inside the Cairn of the Calliagh.
What is your favorite piece of art to see in NYC?
In the Cloisters museum downstairs there is a small room called the treasury, there you can find some really magical books of hours, small devotional illuminated manuscripts from the 14th century. The smallest and most powerful is a book of hours called the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, by Jean Pucelle. The scenes are intimate and human, the lines, rhythmical and elegant, in the borders of the images, there is often a comical secondary narrative.
Where is the best place to see the sunset?
Sometimes there are fantastic sunsets on the corner right outside my house, where the whole sky seems to be on fire, it can be remarkable. But I think the sunset on the water is the best, I’ve spent many hours painting sunsets, and the Greenpoint and Williamsburg parks along the east river are great spots for viewing them.