Big, Bold, Beautiful!
Those are just some of the adjectives that describe Elissa Anthony’s Up Close and Personal exhibit on display at the Rainforest Arts gallery in April and May.
This show focuses on her paintings of flowers. But don’t expect classical arrangements in vases and tidy English gardens. Anthony’s portraits explode out of their canvases, landscapes of petals, leaves and stamen that can’t be contained inside their canvas frames.
By zooming up close, and big—most of the canvases are 36 by 36—she actually distances her art from more familiar floral representations with sweeping patterns that flow from the very centre of her compositions to the edges, and leave viewers asking for more.
A seminal moment for Anthony was seeing a Chicago retrospective of Georgia O’keeffe’s works in 1987. “It just blew me away. I was almost in tears, looking at this work. You could see her brush strokes, you could see that she was a very sensual painter,” Anthony recalls.
“But the stuff that really impressed me was the bigger works. She didn’t always paint big, but when she did—boy, they just knocked your socks off!”
That inspiration took place before Anthony’s life experiences took her from Toronto, where she was working as a graphic designer; to England, where she studied and practised art; then back to Canada, and a home in Nanaimo, where she made ‘a conscious decision to be broke’ by pursuing her career as an artist.
Two years later, she relocated to Bowser—a community that ‘has no street lights’, which makes for starry, starry nights—where she found a house with a fantastic studio. It’s been her home for twenty-plus years.
Anthony’s preferred medium is oils. “I’m an oil painter, so the paint doesn’t dry quickly. You can sit there and work with it for hours, until you get exactly the look you want, and that’s how I get that movement in pretty much everything that I do.”
She also wants her works to radiate strength and power. “I want my work to be strong, like I’ve had to be in my life, like Georgia O’keeffe had to be in her life, like a lot of women I know, especially at our age, now,” she said. “They’re beautiful people, they have endured… they may have wrinkles, but they’re more beautiful for those wrinkles and for those imperfections. That’s what I’m trying to convey.”