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In 5 w/Fey: Elizabeth Wilson: International Award-Winning Surrealist/Artist



by Fey Ugokwe, Esq. (@pinkpurseintl)

But there were strange girls in the Oceanic, ribboning reality with brush and pencil from deep bits of its salt foam and stretching sky--and one of them was Elizabeth Wilson. And her work levitated on its own axis above cities, as did her years, running away with her from her native New Zealand to Brazil, Shanghai, Italy, and more, tricking perception and captivating breath and embracing arms full of artists' awards as she wandered. Pre-Spring found us chatting up the Alex G. Bell about the kiss of surrealism, international environmentalism, and the female future of her head-raking craft:


                   

Q. Your surrealist works are delightfully jarring, sweeping grand-scale, contemplation and cafe-convo-provoking--and yet refined. When did you first begin painting in the genre, and how long did it take you to mastress the art form? Were you literally a wee one back in New Zealand, conjuring up lovely, punching oddities like that with your first set of real brushes?




My style used to be more avant-garde. I loved textiles in my younger years, inspired by the women in my family who were all great seamstresses. At art school I liked to collage and incorporate wallpaper, fabric, even broken pieces of vintage plates into my paintings. I loved the arts and crafts movement and William Morris. I always loved Salvador Dali’s work, but was too busy experimenting when I was young to be bothered trying to paint in such a refined way. I loved to paint in a pop art style, and street art style; it was all about experimentation! My Dad owns a picture framing and artist supply shop, so from a young age I was surrounded by wonderful pictures and beautiful art materials. I fell in love with the materials. I always loved drafting; technical drawing was a favorite subject of mine. I guess it was a natural progression to bring those skills and paint together at some point. Once I had traveled widely, lived in mega-cities like Shanghai and São Paulo, and seen such contrasts between nature and man-made structures, I was compelled to begin painting a merger of the two. I have been focused on this concept of dystopian / utopian environments and biomimicry for a couple of years now. I’m an environmentalist at heart, inspired by my upbringing in New Zealand.





Q. Some of your illustrations are like the stuff of dystopian dreams, taking root from eyes to inner head and living there--and making me wish I had the pocket plush and space to hang every one of them on a wall. I particularly relish in folks who manifest gifts that unearth the emotions in that way--and reality as a whole--to their raw, their striking core, using the simplest of tools. What is the most shocking imagery you've penciled, and where is that print now?

The ‘dark cities’ illustrations are from a series that explore the mega-city urban environments and the undergrounds of these magnificent atrocities. I was in a bit of a dark place when I was first creating these. Shanghai was having air pollution days up around 400, which is so incredibly toxic and hazardous for your health. I just thought that the moment we stop holding each other accountable for environmental destruction, the moment we lose hope in finding better solutions, we start sinking and the light goes out. The largest of these ‘dark cities’ illustrations, is collaged into a large painting, along with ephemera like old architectural plans and Chinese funeral paper. It is in a private collection in Shanghai.




Q. Your mind-swiveling projects have lived and captivated higher human thought from New Zealand to Brazil to China--and now Dallas, Texas--as have you. What did residing in each of those regions release into your consciousness, your sense of creative self? And what has Dallas done so far, in terms of inspiring the direction of your work?

Living in any culture that’s not your own, humbles you greatly. You are often reliant on the kindness of others to assist you and you become excellent at reading people and situations. I was acutely aware of two things during the nine years that I spent living in Shanghai and São Paulo, and these two things seeped into my creative consciousness. Firstly, I felt like I was on shaky ground. That I literally didn’t feel like I was on something solid. You have to consider that I grew up in New Zealand, where the ground is the ground and life is very close to nature. One of my apartments in Shanghai was on the 17th floor. These cities have undergrounds so complex, and endless building and renovating going on. I was always in shock and awe. Secondly, that there is a desperate amount of unfairness and poverty out there, but that the beauty of art and culture is often free and brings people together. The colour and splendor of Chinese New Year, the flamboyance and beauty of Carnival in Rio; I will forever be creatively stimulated by these places. Dallas, TX has inspired a period of peace, the culture of the region is still yet to sink in, and it usually takes a couple of years for my paintbrush to catch up with my mind. What Dallas has given me so far, is the quiet and space to really study my oil painting techniques, and master the Flemish method of painting in thin layers. When Texas does start to enter into my work, I’m anticipating… it’s going to be all about that big sky.  



Q. Women artists often find themselves vying for a voice--and actual art space--in a world already fashioned to receive their male counterparts. Your exhibitions have been in an everywhere, inclusive of the famed Louvre in Paris, Italy, and South Korea--and you have been the recipient of a series of prestigious international awards and publications, from Rome to Ontario. How have you been able to balance that glass ceiling above your brain and fingers, and what industry advice do you have for up-and-coming female artists?

It’s important for women to support each other, to help raise each other up. I’d advise up-and-comers to seek out other women artists in their area, and ask for mentorship. New Zealand women were the first women in the world to get the vote, back in 1893, so I’ve always felt the spirit of strong pioneering women around me! I went out into the world and applied for everything, showed-up, worked hard and put myself forward. Women all over the world, in many different industries, are shattering glass ceilings every day now. I think if you just get on and do the work, and network face to face with others in your industry, then the right people will come into your life and your work will get opportunities. I’m a firm believer in the work itself, above all else…just focus on the work.


Q. What keeps you grounded and yet ever in motion in your off-time, and if you could look back through the keyhole to that little girl drafting feverishly back in the dreamscape of New Zealand, what would you, the woman who has wandered so blessedly far, tell her?

To stay the course. That amazing poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling, was one of many inspiring poems that my late mum introduced into my life. She would buy little laminated versions and gift them to me, so that I could carry them around in my purse. She gave me the power to imagine a life beyond the wildest, she believed in me unwaveringly. Life can be what you want, but it doesn’t come easy. You have to be prepared to stick it out, to dig deep and show tenacity. This kind of grit, I learned from testing myself through physical challenges. Spending 21 days on an Outward Bound adventure course in New Zealand some 20+ years ago, really helped shape me into someone who knows I can be tested and not broken. Today, I keep myself grounded by getting into nature, and through running. I don’t run religiously, but I’ve developed the habit, and it’s a blessing in my life. It keeps me balanced and brings great clarity. Family, children, this also keeps me grounded yet ever in motion. I hardly sit down! My children are my greatest works of art. 

Website: 

Inside Her Studio at Dallas CreativeSpace: 

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