Elise Ansel translates Old Master paintings into a contemporary pictorial language. She mines art historical imagery for color and narrative structure. Her paintings use the Old Masters as points of departure. They move into abstraction by transforming the representational content, which is obfuscated, if not entirely obscured, by her focus on color, gesture and the materiality of the paint. Ansel’s work strikes a balance between conscientious precision and irrational improvisation.


She begins with a series of small spontaneous oil studies. Using renaissance methods and a grid, she transcribes these into large scale paintings. The large paintings embrace the choreography of the small works with an increased emphasis on color and gesture. Spontaneity, instinct and intuition eclipse rational, linear thinking during the process of making the small works. The large paintings, however, are more considered. Her work fuses accident and design, intuition and intellect, abandon and constraint. The real subject becomes the substance and surface of oil paint, the range of its applications, the ways it can be used to celebrate life.


Ansel deconstructs pictorial language and authorial agency in order to excavate and liberate meanings buried beneath the surface of the works from which her paintings spring. Old Master paintings were, for the most part, created by men for men. Abstraction allows her to interrupt this one sided narrative and transform it into a sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view. The title of the exhibition yes I said Yes is carved from the last line of the final Molly Bloom/Penelope chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a chapter which gives voice to the novel’s most conspicuously silent character. Ansel’s project of translating classical works into a contemporary language is inspired by Ulysses; slicing words from this text manifests the transformative energy, the sparagmos, the tearing apart, weaving, unraveling, and re-weaving that is the heart of her activity.