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Interview With An Artist: Elise Huther

· Let’s start at the beginning: When did you start drawing? What were your first subjects?

I’ve loved drawing and painting since I was a little kid. In my earliest memories, my favorite subjects were tigers and horses. But as a young teen, what motivated me to actually practice drawing and attempt to increase my skill was the desire to draw my favorite anime and manga characters. You (Abigail) are partially responsible: it was you who first introduced me to manga. I think we were maybe eleven or twelve years old.

· Did you take classes? Did you find them helpful or distracting from your own style?

I didn’t have the opportunity for any formal art classes until I reached college, but once I did, I found them very helpful! On one hand, I’m glad I had lots of time to just experiment and “learn-by-doing”, so to speak. But honestly I wish I’d had access to formal art education a bit sooner. There are some techniques and tricks that you just don’t self-discover, and blind spots in your own method that you can’t know how to fix until someone more experienced watches you struggle with a project.

“All of You is Welcome Here”, graphite and watercolor.

· How would you describe your style or aesthetic?

If I had to describe it in a single word, I think it’d be “vulnerable”. My technique is unrefined, but sincere. The subjects I depict range from rainbows and unicorns, to macabre fusions, to representations of causes close to my heart. In both execution and content, I think my art is very open. Raw. Vulnerable.

· What is your favorite medium to create in? Do you use certain mediums for certain projects?

Graphite and watercolor are probably my favorites, but I also love acrylic and charcoal. I also love re-purposing thrift store jewelry by cutting it apart and using it to bedazzle literally anything, but that might be less “fine art” than what you’re asking about!

Generally, I don’t have specific mediums for specific projects. Mostly it depends on the feel I want the piece to have, or if it’s a commission, what the client is looking for.

· Art is hard enough. Can you speak to the obstacles you face? (can you define Lupus and Raynauds for our readers who might not know?)

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes many symptoms including (but not limited to) joint pain, fatigue, sensitivity to extreme temperatures, UV sensitivity, and cognitive issues that affect focus and memory. Raynaud’s Phenomenon, or Raynaud’s Syndrome, is another autoimmune condition that is very common with lupus—but you can have the two conditions separate from one another as well. Raynaud’s is a circulatory disorder that constricts the blood vessels in one’s extremities, causing cold, painful and/or numb hands and feet, and can even cause extreme tissue damage. For most sufferers, including myself, Raynaud’s symptoms are most severe in the winter.

I also have Fibromyalgia (yet another autoimmune disorder; they tend to come in fun variety packs), which causes (among other things) muscle and nerve pain.

I’m sure one can imagine how chronic fatigue, pain, and frequently-numb fingers might affect an artist. It absolutely slows my production, and has slowed my progress in improving my technique. Not only are my hands simply too sore to work at times, but also my extreme fatigue has prevented me from taking more art classes on a regular basis. Needless to say, this can be very frustrating and discouraging.

All of that means, though, that every piece I make is a labor of love and passion, of strength and resilience. And that makes them all the more special to me.

“Kozmic Kitties”, watercolor.

· How do you express your illness in your art/do you? Is it important to your art?

I have a few times referenced my illness directly in art pieces, and there are more I plan to make that are fairly direct, but most often I think it shows up in my artwork sort of “between the lines”. By that I mean: living with chronic illness for the last 14 years has so affected my life and shaped the person I am today that I think most of the thoughts or “insights” expressed in my art are at least somewhat informed by that experience.

My disability is also often expressed in my art whether or not I want it to be: my hands are often unsteady, resulting in shaky lines and uneven shading. Sometimes I can go back and fix these things; sometimes not.

I do think my disability is important to my art. It’s a big part of my story, and all of my story is important to my art. Authenticity is a big thing for me, in art as well as in the rest of my life. So being honest about my experiences and how they’ve shaped me is important to me.

· Do you see yourself defined by the obstacles you face?

No, I would not say I’m defined by the obstacles I face. They have definitely influenced the person I’ve become, but as important as experiences can be, a person is more than the sum of their experiences.

· Let’s get back to the art: do you feel it is important to communicate through images?

Definitely! I think visual art engages its audience in unique ways, as well as giving people the opportunity to capture feelings they may not be able to articulate in words—or a way to process those feelings more fully. Visual representations can be as powerful as communication through words, I think, and both are vital and beautiful arts.

· Do you feel paintings, drawings, and others can be read, like a book? How do you read an image?

I suppose it depends on the piece! There are many narrative-style paintings from classic art. For example, in the painting “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, the viewer literally reads the story of the painting from left to right: the winds blowing Venus to the island of Cyprus, where she meets a young woman. Some more contemporary works have text in them, whether incidental or more intentional, and those have a “reading” aspect as well. I think to “read” an image in the way one would need to in order to derive meaning from it, one would have to consider its full context. What is the subject? Or is it abstract? Are there colors? Are they warm or cool? Are the values sharp or diffuse? Does the image appear to be the depiction of a scene or an action, or does it appear to be more meant to evoke a certain emotion? I’m no expert on art interpretation, but every viewer is an expert on what a piece evokes in them. Look at how the piece of art is made and ask yourself what makes you think or feel things.

“Red Right Ankle”, graphite.

· You are very fearless in your work, often speaking out against body shaming, demanding people look at the world with a critical eye. Do you see art as a tool in a fight against all kinds of hate?

I don’t think I’ve thought of it like that exactly, though I’d like to think it could be used that way. With a lot of my pieces, the reason I made them and put them out there was two-fold: 1, I feel this way and I have to process it. 2, If anyone else feels this way, you’re not alone. I have had a couple of pieces that could be described as more directly calling out hate in the world (or at least attempting to). But I also draw dogs and cats and stuff.

I think part of the thing is that compassion, acceptance, and radical inclusion are all values that I hold close in my daily life, so they just naturally come out in my art as I’m trying—like I mentioned above—to maintain authenticity and just to make art about things I care about and think about a lot.

That said, I feel like art is one of the few small things I have to contribute to my sphere of influence, and if I can use it to make a difference there, combatting bigotry and fostering connection, that would mean an awful lot to me.

· Besides using art for a message, what else do you see in your art? Are there other values?

Art is like therapy for me. Well, not quite like therapy; actual therapy is like therapy for me. But art is very therapeutic. Firstly, it allows me to process thoughts and emotions that I either can’t describe in words or that I’m tired of describing in words, but am clearly still not done dealing with yet. Secondly, I find it—acrylic painting especially—a wonderful sensory mindful meditation practice.

With all media, I just love to watch projects take shape before my eyes! Structure building, shadows and color blooming, finally putting on finishing touches, and having a piece of art where before there was just blank paper or canvas…it’s a meaningful experience to me that I would continue creating for myself regardless of whether anyone saw any of my pieces with messages or anything like that.

What else do I see in my art? I see opportunities to just be.

· Any parting messages for our audience or future artists?

I appreciate you taking the time to get to know me a bit! Be brave, be vulnerable; they’re the same thing!

Thanks so much to Elise for sitting down for this interview. You can reach Elise Huther and view her art at…

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