Neoteric Art: Give us some history on yourself.
Ellen Soffer: I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. My father was an untrained artist on the side. My first memory of art making was of watching my father make collages out of fabric sample books. As a child I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum with my family and during school trips. I was interested in art and did drawings on my own.
During high school I started taking photographs and was involved with photography as my main medium. This continued during a summer class at Tyler, and as a freshman at Antioch College at Yellow Springs, Ohio. After two semesters at Antioch I transferred to Philadelphia College of Art and started there as a photography major. Later after painting on my photographs, doing mixed media in the fiber and painting departments, I started concentrating on painting on canvas and paper.
The summer after I graduated from PCA I went to Skowhegan, and then the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA program. I completed my graduate work at SAIC in painting and then was a resident artist at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, IL. I moved back to Philadelphia and worked at different jobs including Utrecht and Media Makers (a medical graphics firm.) I joined the co-op gallery Nexus/Foundation for Today’s Art and eventually had 3 solo shows there and participated in various group shows in the gallery and in other regional locations. I met my future husband at this time and moved to Shreveport, LA where he was working.
When I first moved to Shreveport I had a studio at AT-THE-LOFT, an artist studio building with an exhibition space. It was a building in downtown Shreveport that had been a dental office in the 1920’s. We had changing exhibitions and visiting critic programs, where we would bring in critics from the larger art world to give a lecture and view work. I worked there until my children were born and then moved my studio to a garage attached to my house.
I moved to a different studio two years ago which is unheated and behind my house but I still have a room in my house where I work when weather conditions prevent me from working in my unheated studio.
NA: You live and work in Louisiana. Do your surroundings influence your work?
ES: I am not sure, maybe the light and the trees. I don’t think you can see that so much in my work but that is what interests me visually in this environment.
My work is about an internal vision, emotions, memories that get processed on a subconscious level and than find a life in the forms and colors that I use. Sometimes I am so close to what I am doing that it does take a while for me to see what was an obvious influence. Living in Louisiana has an influence because I think that where you live has to affect your painting. Living here as an adult I feel more connected to the people in my life than the place. When I was growing up in Philadelphia I really did feel connected to the place, the buildings, people, the rhythm of life in that city. When I go back to Philadelphia now I notice the light quality is different. That is something that I would not have noticed if I had stayed there.
NA: Discuss your work/thought process when starting a new piece.
ES: I have about 10 paintings going at once. Usually I am working on about 5 paintings in my garage studio and 5 in the studio in the house. I mostly work with oil and acrylic, having painting going in both media. I also work on paper in gouache, acrylic, ink, pencil, watercolor and oil pastels. I have a few ways that I may block out a painting when I start. I sometimes start a painting with a loose grid, circles and irregular shapes. Then I start working with and cover over my initial drawing on the surface. If I feel the need to explore something more that I need to wipe out of a current painting I may make a brief drawing of it on a new canvas so I feel I can work on that idea later. Sometimes I use a ruler and a circular lid for the painting that have geometric patterns. I have not shown these as much as my paintings that have more irregular shapes. I have worked on the more geometric paintings on and off for about 18 years but most of the time I am focused on the irregular forms and circles.
NA: Half the struggle is creating the work while the other half is getting shown. What are some of the things you do to get our work out?
ES: I have been sending out postcards that I have made up for a few of the shows that I am in each year. I have also started using social media; Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to reach out to a larger art audience. I send out packets to galleries and other exhibition spaces. I also send out email announcements. I send updates to art consultants and gallery dealers who have shown or sold my work. It is a challenge when you live in an area isolated from a large art community. Shreveport is 350 mile from New Orleans, 250 miles from Houston, and 190 miles from Dallas. I drive a lot to see art and to show my work.
NA: Who are some of your favorite artists…famous and local?
ES: I really like Picasso and have since I started painting, I also like Matisse, Cezanne, Mondrian, Leger, Morandi, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Bonnard, Rothko, Pollack, Newman and Gicometti. Also Brice Marden, Jim Nutt, Joan Mitchell, Richard Pousette-Dart, Eva Hesse, and Elizabeth Murry. Whenever I write these lists I forget someone I really like.
When I first moved to Shreveport I became aware of the work of Lucille Reed and Clyde Connell. Clyde was an older woman when I moved here and had a national reputation. She showed her work at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans and her work can be seen on their website http://www.arthurrogergallery.com. Lucille Reed was an artist that maintained a studio at AT-THE-LOFT. (I also like the work of Robert Gordy and Elmore Morgan Jr. who along with Clyde are no longer living but are also on the Arthur Roger website.) Two artists that I like from south Louisiana are Luis Cruz Azaceta http://www.luiscruzazaceta.net and Frances X. Pavy http://www.pavy.com.