Artist Spotlight: Elsie Kagan

How long have you worked in the Gowanus neighborhood

Gowanus and the surrounding neighborhoods have been my home since I first moved to New York City in 2005. It is home sweet home to me.

About my work

My paintings fuse the formal tropes of traditional genres with an energetic emphasis on themedium’s materiality. Drawing from 17th century Northern European still life paintings, as well as live observation, my work harnesses the power of pictorial space and surface presence, testing the line between representation and abstraction. Often large in scale, the work is physically active, corresponding with my arm span and the movement of my body. I use a combination of oil paint and watercolor paint suspended in vinyl to achieve a drippy dynamic vibrancy. As a counterpoint to the large-scale work, I make smaller compositions with Flashe paint on panel—intimate sketches emphasizing drawing and gesture. Dramatic and exuberant, my floral paintings depict the delicate refraction of stems in water alongside gravity’s power to drag color down a surface, seeking that charged moment when paint is at once a smear and a cluster of blossoms.

Which artists inspire or influence your work? Is there an aspect of Gowanus that inspires you?

I draw my influences from many different places and sources, both current and historic. My work often converses with a particular point in the history of painting, along with a moment-by-moment response to the qualities of paint, color, and live observation. There are times where the landscape of Gowanus has appeared directly in my work. I am also continually buoyed and excited by the work of other artists in this neighborhood.

Why should people visit your studio during Gowanus Open Studios 2016?

Visitors will have the opportunity to see a vibrant and exciting body of work that I finished this year including both large and small scale paintings that I call still-lives. Brand new work in a more embryonic stage will also be on view. I am beginning to address my experience of motherhood in my work.  It feels vulnerable to share work that is in the beginning stages, but that is what is exciting about an open studio.

What do you have on your walls at home?

My own artwork at home is now often crowded out by the art created by my children. I have a small collection of artwork on my walls by (mostly local) artists that I admire. My most prized piece is by Stanley Whitney, who I was lucky to work with in Rome while at Tyler studying for my MFA.

What is your secret talent?

I love rhythm. I’ve studied some West African drumming in my time, and though I’m probably pretty rusty now, I used to be a pretty good tap dancer.

To see more of Elsie’s paintings, visit her website: