Elliot Camarra, Artist
Meet New York-based artist Elliot Camarra. Elliot's work explores the many nuances of life by gracefully exploring color, identity, and object in all matter of medium. Poetically, Elliot embraces art as a way of processing life, interweaving her artistic family background, extensive scholarly pursuits, and keen aesthetic to produce an oeuvre that is truly signature. Today Lisa Says Gah stops by Elliot's studio for a look at her new body of work and a chat about the focused effort towards balance living in New York requires. Enjoy!
LSG: Hey, Elliot! Thanks for having us. Tell us about your background and what brought you to the current moment.
Hi! I grew up by the beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and now I live in Brooklyn, New York. I started college at Mount Holyoke, an all women's school in western Massachusetts, where I studied literature, French, art, and art history. Deciding to focus on studio art, I transferred to RISD, where I began studying photography and switched to printmaking, but primarily focused on painting — ha! I'm a very curious person, so I was simultaneously taking classes at other colleges like Brown, Hampshire, and Smith during that time.
After graduating, I lived in Berlin and worked as an artist’s assistant. Since then I've been settled in New York for about a year.
LSG: Tell us about your studio space. You just moved in. What do you know about the history of the building?
The studio is in an old industrial building in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. Apparently it was built sometime in the 40’s as a storage facility and later was divided into smaller businesses. There’s still quite a mix of usages in here, from studios to wholesale fabric distributors to knitting factories. It’s run down, but in a very romantic way!
LSG: What themes are you currently exploring with your art? How is this new space accelerating your work?
I’m thinking about the way people, particularly women, record their lives. Having the new studio is energizing. It’s amazing how much a fresh, sunny space can facilitate clarified thinking.
LSG: Tell us about your palette? What is your thought process when choosing colors?
Choosing color is very intuitive, and I think that’s because I grew up in such a colorful house. When you live inside of something, you know it. I usually have a strong sense of what color to start with and build on it by responding one color at a time.
LSG: We notice things like shoes, fabric and various non-painterly materials around the studio. Can you speak to your relationship with objects?
I'm inspired by a relationship with objects on the other side of materialism — the things that people hold onto / heirlooms when formerly useful objects are saved and become icons. I’ve been making sculptures to play around with these ideas, which end up being extensions of the paintings — little relics of that world.
LSG: You mostly depict women. Are your figures self-portraits
The figures connect to me in very specific ways, but I wouldn’t generalize them as self-portraits. They’re more representative of particular feelings or fixations. If the figures are derived from a particular person, it’s usually the way that person has navigated something specific that interests me. So the figure ends up being a portrait of that thought or decision or worry — mine or somebody else's. But then again, I think whatever we choose to spend thoughtful time on ends up being a self-portrait.
LSG: You obviously paint but also explore other mediums like sculpture, video and photography. Why is that? What is calling to you the most right now?
Each of these mediums requires a different way of thinking. If making art is a way of processing life, it makes sense to me that different ideas or concerns would be best served by different modes of processing. Right now I’m most excited to make paintings and videos. My boyfriend is an inspiring cinematic collaborator — our different approaches complement each other in that medium, and it’s been exciting to discover that.
LSG: What does your creative state look like? Do you get struck with waves of inspiration and produce prolifically or is it more of a paced out process?
In school, I created work at a prolific, compulsive pace. Since graduating, I feel that I’m still figuring out how to catch and sustain a productive rhythm. Living in New York requires a focused effort towards balance, but it can be difficult to produce during time pressured by scheduling. I like to have a plan, but I try to be open to knowing whether it’s a day to focus on work-work or to take advantage of an inspired mood and paint. When I’m inspired to create, I’m thoroughly optimistic.
LSG: Do you have to produce art? Do you consider it an integral part of who you are?
I’m always working on something, whether I’m at home or in the studio. Even when I’m watching a movie I usually have another project going. Producing is an impulse integral to a very central part of me that comes from growing up in a family that celebrates the importance of art. My dad is a sculptor and former gallerist, my mom is a designer and decorator, my stepdad is a sculptor/builder, and my sister is a textile artist! In transitioning out of school, it’s been interesting for me to notice the resistance I have to claim this identity where there is new pressure to present myself with a single word.
LSG: How do you get yourself to create when you don't feel like it? Is that possible?
I think it’s possible and necessary to make yourself create when you’re stuck, but I’m learning that it’s just as important to give yourself some space and to trust that inspiration will come back around rather than trying to force it. Motivating perspective is always garnered by temporary disengagement.
Five things for an inspired day
7 am yoga class
A cup of blooming tea or coffee
Walk to studio, no matter the weather
LSG: What is your relationship with fashion? How do you see fashion intersect with art? Are they connected?
I'm very interested in some fashion and often work in that field alongside my personal art practice. I think fashion and art can be connected, but I don’t think they always are. I don’t think the connection can work both ways — as in, good fashion can be art / good art won’t be fashion.
LSG: What are requirements when it comes to an article of clothing? Do you have separate wardrobes for work and life, or are the two one and the same?
One and the same! I have a smock that I’ve been using since kindergarten — an old dress shirt of my dad’s now covered in paint and repaired in some spots. That’s usually enough, but if I’m doing something particularly messy, I like to wear my boyfriend’s overalls. I also have some red studio slippers!
LSG: We noticed you were reading The Bell Jar. Can you give us a favorite quote?
“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them. Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far, and then I say: "I'll go take a hot bath.”
LSG: What music is currently playing in the studio?
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou
LSG: Favorite non-art hobby?