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Omphaloskepsis Blog

Fancy Philadelphia farm girl faces facts.

Dec 6, 2010


I started this blog as a way of keeping track of my progress in my career, sharing that journey and connecting with others. Because it's nearly the end of 2010, and because its been a year for the books, I thought it might be a good idea to summarize the major events + lessons, and some of the personal obstacles that have paralleled the professional change. This maybe less interesting for anyone but me, however, I need to have this as a matter of posterity.

I moved to Seattle WA with my family in July 2009. The goal I set for myself at the time was to paint steadily for six months without distraction, from mid-September 2009 to mid-March 2010, without the pressures of looking for shows, galleries, or any other sort of outreach. The only thing I did was open my studio on First Thursday Art Walk. Other than that I painted while my children were in school and some on the weekend. I worked on the Non-ordinary Reality series, completing approximately one per month. I also placed ads to find a west coast model so I could again take up my Accident series. During one of the art walks, Thomas came into my studio with the ad in his hand. He pointed to the ad, then to himself, "perrrfeeeect" I sang. He laughed and handed me his card, then without saying a word, left. So, with Thomas' help, I got back to work on the Accident series as well.

In December, at Christmastime, John's grandmother died.



I drew my big-headed dad asleep on the couch after work when I was 16.

By the end of the 2009, a new acquaintance who was really enjoying my Non-Ordinary Reality paintings suggested several people to me to contact. One of those people was Dan Kany, a former Seattle gallerist and CoCA board member, now gallerist and art critic on the east coast. Dan agreed to look at my work and talk to me. He answered my questions and we had some philosophical points of agreement. Dan liked my work and thought that it would be a good fit for CoCA, he suggested I contact Joe Roberts.


What I always loved about this drawing is the efficiency in how it shows where the weight is distributed as she boosts herself over the chair. I was 18.

In the meantime a local group of artists invited me to join their monthly meetings. I felt a part of the community. I entered my work in a few shows. A virtual show in London because it was being curated by someone from the Whitechapel Gallery, a show in Brooklyn because of the curator, and a local show in Bremerton (2nd place), also because of the curator. I felt it was more important to get my work in front of the right curators than to win any of these. (I entered a handful of others too that I didn't win...I'm working on my stack of rejections. I understand I need 40 good rejections before I start getting more challenging shows). All of these panned out for me.

At the same time as all that was going on, Joe offered me a solo show at the CoCA in February. I hustled. Dan wrote the press release and statement for the show. Michael Upchurch came and gave me a favorable full page review in the Seattle Times. Joe asked if I would like to submit a couple of pieces to the international painting Biennale in Ecuador. (I was a little bit ahead of my stated goal of painting for six months straight and then showing.) I submitted one existing and painted one new to Ecuador. Cameron Crisman, who had been helping Joe while my show was up, went to Ecuador to help with the biennale. He took my paintings down in March. Everything just seemed like, "oh yea, this is how its supposed to go, exactly like this." I was eerily calm. In reality I was being treated very well. But I had no point of comparison and only the expectations I set when I was a very small child regarding what I would be doing and how, so this all seemed a very natural part of the landscape.


Here - its the turning of the form, and gravity/weight distribution that rocks my world. I was 18.

Mid March I got an urgent call from my brothers, come home, mom's going on hospice, she's in renal failure. I went. After six days I sat alone with my mom and let her go. Its been very confusing and my family is complicated. I think that's true for many people, maybe most people.

I won in Ecuador, third place. I went. Our family friend Mark Hoffman agreed to accompany me as he's familiar with the culture and is fluent. I owe him a painting. He was great. I mostly maintained my equanimity except I missed the announcement and award and Joe had to accept on my behalf. I think I embarrassed the museum director. I lost a Javits scholarship when I went back to grad school because of a paperwork glitch. Honestly, I couldn't believe I was actually getting it so I didn't take it as seriously as I should've. Missing this felt similar, except that in the end, I had still won. There were lessons involved here too which I blogged about in detail in an earlier post.


The other students were good sports because the teacher encouraged experimentation. The week prior I brought in bundles, tied them and hung them from the ceiling. Then we tied the model. At some point I’d like to get back to those bundles, they keep cropping up in my ideas in my sketch books. All of these four drawings are a little flawed, but the assets, in my eyes, outweigh the flaws. In each there is something extraordinarily beautiful going on with the marks.

In April I found out I was a The Fund finalist. In May there was another death. I was in several more shows during the course of the year including a show planned in May 2011 at the South Seattle Community College, won two more international awards, an article in The Huffington Post's inaugural arts section over the summer, and in September a profile and interview in 3 Quarks Daily. Somewhere in here the museum director in Ecuador contacted me and offered me a solo show at the museum.

In August/September Joe produced a catalog for me. Ray C. Freeman III, president of CoCA designed it with infinite patience and it came out beautifully. CoCA gave me a book signing opening. Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times, gave CoCA and it some pre-press. CoCA gave me the inaugural show in their new space in Pioneer Square and hung new paintings from my two series. While the CoCA show in February was the start of the "showing" phase of the year, the book was the start of the writing phase.


"Painting Non-ordinary Reality: A Long Look at Something You Can’t See" by Elatia Harris
Any single image from the Accident series will freeze you where you stand. Motionlessly, you check yourself for parts and think, "Oh, that’s the thing, the thing that happened to me, even if no one sees it." The Water paintings, on the other hand, will dislocate you – you are pulled, plunged and buoyed, seeing up and through and down.

"The Accidental Purist: Kate Vrijmoet and the American Sublime" by Daniel Kany
Vrijmoet, however, is not merely trafficking in conundrums and impossibilities. We know somehow that these images are real – even if they only play themselves out in our fears [...] In this sense, Vrijmoet is playing a dialectical game with the traumatic memory trace

I began writing a curatorial proposal for performance based installation work for a very competitive venue that took me six weeks of sixty hour weeks. It was an intense growth period. I love the work that I conceived and it's helped me understand my work in a new context, expanded my range, bringing me closer to non-traditional areas of art that I've always found incredibly exciting. In October I participated in the CoCA 24-hr art marathon. I had a blast! Performance-based concept art came out of that based on my research and writing. I've spent time writing several grant proposals, residency proposals, and curatorial proposals.

Now I'm back in the studio, painting the Non-Ordinary Reality series, for which I have another 12 paintings planned. I've got quite a few of the Accident paintings left to paint, but it's cold in my studio and I want to focus on one thing for a little bit. The ideas are flowing intensely and I trust that as I work, the cream will rise to the top, so that when I've completed some of my current work, what comes next will not be an issue. If I had a studio with assistants that could begin the execution on my ideas while they were hot, I could work on everything at once, but I'm not there yet. So, I'll write down the ideas and table them. They'll inform other ideas or get produced eventually or become less important with incubation.


Photo research I did at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I got special permission to draw from the corvid collection for my first painting, Middle Passage.

In any case. I'm glad for a little quiet time to refocus. I hope I can learn to take things as they come. Right now I'm still wound up a little tight from the year. The way I plan on dealing with this is to eliminate the distractions I able to, expand my outreach so I don't feel like one mistake with one person will break my career (I have to be able to make mistakes, I'm human, flawed and that's how people learn), exercise, paint, meditate.

A whopping 50 paintings
1 Book
7 Awards
10+ Direct press
15 Shows
35 Applications for shows, publications, residencies and other opportunities.

I increased my working hours from 25 to 40 to 55 to 60. Now I hover between 60 and 80 hours a week (unless the children are on school holiday).
This year I’ve learned a great deal about showing, applications, and writing. I’ve learned about press and press releases. I’ve learned a good deal about some of the subtle business workings of the art world.


This is my first Painting, The Middle Passage, it’s about 6’ x 6’ 2006 Oil on Canvas. I had painted previous to this, but this was the first one I planned and executed on my own.

So, that's my year (+) in recap. Intense. I hope that next year brings some opportunity to travel. It would be fabulous to have extended foreign trips where I can bring the children and they can have adventures while I work. I’d like to work on presentation skills.

But its great to see that we're all finally settling in. It's taken a little while but given the chaos, it's quite understandable, even expected. I feel proud of myself, in spite of the hiccups, I think its a minor miracle we've made it to the end of the year whole, happy and in a position to reflect. I’m very grateful for Elatia’s and Joe’s unwavering support and sound advice.

Category: Studio

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