Ellen Soffer's paintings are intentionally ambiguous-evoking feelings left behind by a dream, emotion or memory. She has been a resident at Ragdale and Skowhegan and was awarded Shreveport Regional Arts Council's Visual Arts Fellowship. Originally from Philadelphia, she has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. JAE blogger Sheri Klein, talked to Soffer about her art and her career. Her interview follows:
What are the influences for your work?
I explore the self through an abstract narrative with reference to human, nature, and formal elements. I looked a lot at Picasso, Matisse, and early Pollock when I first started painting. I think of those artists as my roots in painting. I also like Gorky, Cezanne, Lee Krasner, Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Phillip Guston, Miro, Frank Stella, Mondrian, Leger, Morandi, Diebenkorn, Marsden Hartley, Rothko, Newman, Giacometti, and Stuart Davis.
Do you work from sketches? Or do you start painting and let the painting emerge?
I work on paper a lot, from sketches to more finished work, but they are usually working out visual ideas that may overlap with my painting. I usually do not transfer sketches to painting on canvas. I work directly on canvas, usually with a drawing method of creating shapes and a loose grid but not based on a direct drawing. Sometimes these compositional elements at the beginning of the painting have a direct influence on the finished painting but other times they are completely changed.
Has your artwork been influenced by Jewish art, themes in art, or Jewish beliefs and principles--and if so, what in particular?
I think about my paintings as a moment in time captured and made still, sort of a snapshot of a churning universe. I am probably influenced by the awareness in Judaism of time by day, week, season, and year, but I am unsure as to how it manifests in my work.
Whatever Jewish-ness is in my work is deep and unconscious, though I can't help but insert some of my cultural experiences. For instance, I have used Hebrew month names as titles to my paintings and have signed the back of some paintings with the Jewish year. Sometimes when I use a number in the title, I think about what the number would symbolize in the Jewish use of number symbols. I would like to explore this idea more.
How do you identify yourself? Do you identify as a Jewish artist or as an artist who is Jewish, and what does that mean to you?
I think of myself as an artist who is Jewish, not a Jewish artist. I think of a 'Jewish artist' as someone who is taking more direct themes from Jewish life, historical or religious, and can clearly identify their content as connected to Jewish themes. I would be open to having someone read my work in a Jewish context as I'm open to them looking at it in terms of gender or geography, or their own personal beliefs, but I don't think that is main focus of my work.
Where can we find your work?
During the month of August (2012) I have a painting in the Trans- exhibit at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas (http://the-mac.org/2012/07/trans/) and a painting in the Texas Artists Coalition Membership exhibit at the Fort Worth Community Center in Fort Worth, Texas. http://www.fwcac.com/?exhibitions
In Shreveport, Louisiana I also have small works available at artspace, a painting at the Shreveport Regional Airport, and an ongoing exhibit at Agudath Achim Congregation, Shreveport, LA