Elisa D’Arrigo was born and raised in The Bronx, NY where she found early inspiration in the Bronx 1950s visual culture of curvaceous cars, brash comics, extreme hairstyles, and evocatively wrapped fig trees. In 1975 she received a BFA in ceramics from SUNY New Paltz. She continued working in clay until approximately 1981, when needing a different challenge, she felt drawn to work with materials that were not as responsive as clay, with different properties.
Thus, began a decades-long investigation into making sculpture that used or combined materials such as paper, cloth, thread, wire, wax, wood, paper-maché, bronze and unfired clay, all the while incorporating various craft processes in their construction. In 2010, her growing impulse to introduce humor and more fluid gesture led her to work with ceramics once again, after a nearly 30-year hiatus. The vase/vessel form, with its necessary orifice(s), has become her muse.
Her work has been shown and is in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The High Museum of Art, The Weatherspoon Art Museum, and The Mead Art Museum. It is also in the collections of The Dorsky Museum of Art and The Everson Museum of Art. She has had 11 solo exhibitions at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery.
Reviews, articles and interviews have appeared in various publications including The New York Times, Art in America, ArtNews, Sculpture Magazine, Hyperallergic, Two Coats of Paint, Romanov Grave and Artspiel, among others. Elisa lives and works in New York City.
Elisa D’Arrigo will be having a show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, March 5 – April 23, 2022. Showing concurrently will be painter Cornelia Shulz.
My work has evolved in a circular manner, with an ongoing re-working, re-visiting and re-imagining of forms and processes. I am using clay now, after a hiatus of nearly 30 years, because I still have unfinished business with ceramics and what it elicits from me. Although I’ve varied processes and materials over the years, there’s a recurrence of concerns and images, such as references to the body, nature, and the expression of states of mind through abstract form.
My ceramic works conflate color, surface and animated form within the context of the glazed ceramic vessel. I am intrigued by the magic of the ceramic process, including how glaze alchemically fuses color to surface, radically transforming the character of a piece.
The pieces begin as variously sized hollow and hand-built cylindrical forms which I manipulate while wet in a period of intense improvisation. The “postures” that result allude to the body in a gestural and visceral manner. My penchant for in-the-moment decisions yields forms that surprise me yet seem oddly familiar as well. Unexpected asymmetries generate an intrinsic humor. I am compelled by the way we inhabit and imagine our bodies from the inside out, and by the psychological and corporeal aspects of containment. The inside creates the outside, and vice versa. My intent is to project a physicality that also embodies states of mind.
Many of these pieces were made in the midst of the lockdown, and I often reflected on how an improvisational approach seemed well suited to working in such an unprecedented time. Improvisation is like non-verbal introspection. It also allowed what was around me to come into the work, finding expression in the ways I manipulated, assembled, and often took apart the pieces, as the forms materialized and sometimes dematerialized on my table. Forms I did not know I was thinking about were revealed. Not knowing exactly what I was doing, but doing it anyway reflected and felt in sync with what was happening in the world.
In a catalogue essay for my 2019 exhibition “In The Moment” at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, writer Nancy Princenthal described my works as “incorrigibly unconforming sculpture”, and “…a series of alarmingly potent little ceramic figures that engage our propensities for reverie, humor and perhaps most satisfying, deep human recognition….”.