5 questions with Beth Gilfilen


Beth and I met last summer at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in a lithography class with Devraj Dakoji (a true master and one of the kindest souls you'll ever meet). She was a printmaking fellow and I had just moved into my studio at the EFA. I was enamored with her gorgeously raw, yet smokey prints. Her paintings are even more incredible.

Name: Elizabeth Gilfilen


Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world?

I live in Brooklyn, and my studio is just a neighborhood away. I have a few friends in my studio building that I feel a comrarderie with, and that I can reach out to and break up the isolation of working alone. My world revolves around my family, my husband and my son, and their world revolves around my frenetic self-imposed deadlines and painting schedule! We adopted a dog last summer, and she has been a terrific stress-antidote; forcing us to get to the park twice a day. And she's sweet.


What’s an average studio day like? 

Typically I get to the studio between 8 and 9am, after checking email and a few strong cups of coffee. During the school year, I work until about 2:30, then get my son from school. When I'm deep into the work, I schedule after-school, so I can work late into the evening. I also teach drawing, so I'll schedule other types of work on those days; such as priming canvases or doing an application, or just looking. At night, I like to catch up on reading, and I have a desk at home where I do ink drawings. I have a love/hate relationship with the radio, I flip it on to feel more connected to the world, and then pretty quickly turn it off. It tends to distract me. Music goes on and off sporadically during the day; gets me going, but mostly I prefer the hum of workers, trucks, cars outside. My work is very strongly tied to a marking, or tracking of time, so it's important for me to stay aware of the temporal structure I'm building within the painting, rather than what is imposed from another artist's composition.



What are you working on now? (what are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

Right now I'm trying to more clearly translate the forms that emerge in my ink drawings into the paintings. The paintings evolve in a very rhythmic way, and are directly related to the scale and movement of my body. I am trying to harness this kinesthetic approach a bit more, and allow the more concrete structures of the drawing forms to inform the paintings. While making the drawings, I have an "overlord" type of relationship to the paper, and there is more foresight involved as the improvisation unfolds. This orientation can't really be duplicated with the large-scale canvas; nor do I strive for a one-to one reproduction. It is more of an internalized knowledge of the form that I can hold in the back of my head, while the mechanics of the painting act take over. I'm searching for a kind of tension between the structure that is built through the scaffolding of painting marks and the momentary grasping of a more concrete, tangible entity that slips in and out of recognition.

I'm very excited to spend a few weeks just drawing this summer, then I plan to get back to the big canvases in August. I have about 12 big ones started that I'm working on in a more interrelated group.


What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

I go for a run! I try to get out of my head and into my body as much as possible. I also try to reconnect with what inspires me outside of art; reading, exploring the city. Sometimes I get lost in the labyrinth of internet searches in science, psychology and whatever else pops up.

Other times it's just a matter of moving everything around in the studio and seeing the work fresh. I typically have a "lost" painting that is the worst one going, so there is really nothing at stake should I mess it up. I'll start here, a warm-up of sorts, and then get in the groove with the other works. I work on a large group of works at once, so transitioning from one to the next allows for an interdependency between works, and allows me to parse out and isolate contradictory moves or sequences among these works.

How do you sustain your creative life? (how do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

I have transitioned from full-time mom when my son was an infant to part-time teacher pretty seamlessly. Prior to his birth, I had a huge range of jobs. I spent many, many years waitressing, bartending and have worked in lots of administrative positions. I did the grunt work for lobbyists, gallerists, non-profits, hotels, medical-supply companies, you name it. When I moved to New York, with a new baby coming soon, I knew I had to structure my time a bit differently if I was going to meet all the demands of making work and raising a child. I found ways to work part-time; teaching art for kids, so I could could bring my son along. When I was accepted to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Space program in Brooklyn, my son was entering kindergarten, and I was able to spend more time in the studio. The exposure there led to some sales of work that allowed me to secure a studio, and now I'm teaching drawing at one of the SUNY colleges out in Long Island. 

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

Don't be so critical of your failures! There is so much loss in making work, and that's such an important part of the process. Don't edit yourself prematurely. DO say yes to whatever comes to mind, there is something valuable in every misstep.

Where can we see your work next?

I'll have a painting in the exhibit "Conversations" curated by Sharon Louden at Morgan Lehman Gallery opening July 9, 6-8pm. There is a gallery talk July 28 from 6-8pm. I'm also working toward a solo exhibit at Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, CT in early 2015.