By Miguel Carter Fisher
Often, the loudest voice isn’t the one worth listening to. In a culture of spectacle, where novelty trumps content, it is a true pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with an artist like Ecka Blaire Faulds. She has a sensibility akin to artist like Fairfield Porter or Erik Satie whose work is not appreciated for it’s demonstration of facility, but for the beauty of the overall composition. Too often representational painters like myself trick ourselves into believing that the success of our work can be quantified by the degree to which it is rendered. Ecka never seems to make this mistake, not even for a moment, and I envy her for that.
She dedicates herself to the solemnity of the casual walk. She sees the sensibility of idle moments in nature which has provided her insight evident in her artist statement:
Reacting to the weight of memory my work observes the delicate relationship between figure and environment. By depicting moments of interaction or ignorance of the figure to its surroundings, I aim to bring to light our own complicated relationships with nature.
At times a work carefully and knowingly makes clear the boundaries felt between humankind and the natural realm as it crisply delineates the composition into two parts. Both the figure and a representation of nature – most often the cultivated trappings of an aquarium or garden – are contained in such a way as to question who may be truly caught and forced to bear the burden of isolation.
Other moments find the figure dwarfed and swallowed by its surroundings. In its immersion the idea of ‘personhood’ – of singularity – is less than possible. Edges defining ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘you’ and ‘me’ grow murky and wild, allowing the identities of figure and place to acquire the same significance.
I speculate that a work made through meditation, takes a meditative viewer to truly appreciate. Ecka’s work, like the subjects she paints, can easily be overlooked by the impatient observer. I encourage you the reader not to do so.
MCF: Your artist statement begins with “Reacting to the weight of memory my work observes the delicate relationship between figure and environment.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by the weight of memory and what role these memories play in the development of your work?
EBF: Memory has always been a tricky thing for me. I don’t often remember particular details with the clarity that many of my friends and peers seem to have, but instead recall my emotional reactions. The images I’m drawn to have this feeling of existing outside of time, caught in this serene space where I can wash away some of that emotional baggage
MCF: While your work has a very impressionistic quality of light, it has always struck me not as the capturing of light in a mad rush before it fades, but as the capturing of it on the periphery of one’s recollection. How would you describe the emotional or psychological vantage point in your work?
EBF: Sometimes the images have a dark energy hiding out somewhere, no matter how peaceful the contents first seem to be. I think that speaks to who I am. I’m very sensitive and hold onto things even after I thought I had let them go. I’ve found myself in situations, especially growing up, where I felt unsafe and therefore betrayed… and that is not a weight that falls easily from one’s shoulders. And so perhaps that’s what I’m constantly looking for – safe space, all the while knowing it’s easily darkened and intruded upon.
MCF: How does memory bring you in touch with place, or more specifically the relationship between humankind and the natural realm?
EBF: I seek stillness.
I’ve always felt most at home in nature, identified greatly with all non-humans, and wondered about the thoughts and feelings of other organisms. I believe that our egos limit us: everything here on this Earth has value, has a reason for being here, but those reasons are closely intertwined with the lives of others. Nothing exists singularly.
In my childhood I spent so much time either reading (usually about animals) or observing nature. I could get lost in gazing at the pattern of leaves or watching an ant make its way around. I think that shows in my work as I’m constantly invested and interested in these places where slow observations are possible.
MCF: Throughout the history of painting artist have used composition to express man’s relationship to nature as conceived in their time. I think of the sense of natural order and clarity in the work of Poussin, versus the swirling turbulence of Turner. You state that in some of your works “Both the figure and a representation of nature – most often the cultivated trappings of an aquarium or garden – are contained in such a way as to question who may be truly caught and forced to bear the burden of isolation.” and that “Other moments find the figure dwarfed and swallowed by its surroundings. In its immersion the idea of ‘personhood’ – of singularity – is less than possible.” Am I correct in concluding that you’re invested in capturing mankind’s self alienation from the greater natural world?
EBF: You nailed it! Can I just take a moment to say how much I appreciate that you understood me?
In my work I seek out points in time and compositions where the boundary has blurred a bit. For instance, the delicate reach of a leaf into the space of a human figure – a reversal invasion, where nature reclaims the space.
MCF: Members of our generation are often defined as self-absorbed, yet the more I talk with our peers, the more I realize how pervasive this idea of immersion into the sublime, or loss of personhood is. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be? and why is it important to you?
EBF: I think our generation is beginning to understand what’s at stake here with the changes in our environment, and we’re affected by it.
I also feel that we’ve been swallowed whole by consumerism. We’ve experienced recession while being saddled with great debt at a young age. Due to all this – which is incredibly overwhelming – I think we’re looking for meaningful connections, trying to find our place in the big picture – which means embracing community, both natural and man-made.
As for myself…I maybe watched Fern Gully one too many times as a child. (And still do!)
MCF: The color in your work is often unconventional and seems drawn from personal expression rather than convention. How did you arrive at your palette, and what does it lend to the content of your work?
EBF: I find it so funny when you say that! What’s so unconventional about it?
But I think you’re right. I never really think about my palette, I just paint with it and always find myself so attracted to the cool tones. Maybe because they imply a certain amount of distance or sentiment. I can’t really say.
I’ve had the same palette since college, and I can tell you exactly where I picked it up from – Derrick Quevedo! At the time I was very interested in painting on site, especially at night. He encouraged me to simplify so that I could be more mobile. White, deep brown, and a warm and cool version of the primaries. That’s all I have. I can tell you I use a heck of a lot of manganese blue, maybe I’m too excited about that pigment in particular!
MCF: Why do you use acrylic as opposed to oil?
EBF: Back in college I started getting terrible chronic headaches that I’m still living with now. They’ve gotten less intense over time but persistent pain really interferes with productivity.
The headaches prevented me from working large at a time when I really wanted to explore larger scale works, and I was forced to adapt. I did this by choosing to paint very small on a pad of paper. Oils, with their long drying time, just didn’t work and I was also really concerned about the vapors from mineral spirits. So, I very begrudgingly switched to acrylic.
I’ve really come to love them now. They’re low maintenance, and they allow the paper to act in a way that I really appreciate. I’m very loyal to Golden’s Open line as I can still get some of the flexibility of oil. All I really miss from oil is the smell of the paint. Other than that, I don’t really look back.
MCF: We both were privileged to have had Stephen Brown as a mentor. He championed artist who were, as he put it, “without bells and whistles.” Like the artist Stephen admired you paint like you have nothing to prove to anyone. I am sure I am projecting but when I look at your work I imagine someone confident in their solitude. Do you see yourself as being somewhat of an outsider or independent voice?
EBF: Oh how I miss him! What I took away most from studying under him was to “paint what’s in your backyard.” Don’t go looking for a subject: paint what you know, what interests you, and run from there. Let everything come about naturally. It’s all about paying attention to yourself and going after what you feel is best rather than letting someone dictate that for you. Don’t apologize for your voice.
I’d say I’m confident in my solitude most days, but definitely not always! But yes, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I don’t have an easy time connecting myself with people and generally prefer to watch how they interact with one another and their surroundings. But it’s also from a really loving place as I catch a lot of tenderness, and I always feel honored to witness it. People care about each other and their surroundings far more than they let on.
MCF: What do you hope people walk away with after viewing your work?
EBF: I hope it inspires them to pay more attention to their surroundings. To see how they love and are loved, how they hurt and are made to feel hurt in return. To care about what’s beyond and outside of themselves, while also finding peace in their solitude.
MCF: What direction is your work currently heading in?
EBF: I’m very interested in foliage at this point. Even having grown up in Connecticut and feeling so in debt to my natural surroundings, I’ve only very recently started to explore green. It’s so active and overwhelming!
In the newer works the foliage takes over the foreground, interrupting the forms of the figures or delicately reaching towards them. Nature is gaining more personality and feels more individualized at this point. I’m very excited to see what happens next!