ART OF ELISA TERRANOVA-SACRED HEART STUDIOS
A Visual Diary

"But what I did tell had to be the truth. So to tell the truth liberates. That's what it does. It reminds human beings, all of us, that human beings are more alike than we are unalike. And everybody's been through something.....and I understand it. I am capable of understanding it."

Maya Angelou, 1997


On November 2, 1980, a car/train collision was to forever change my life. The accident ravaged my face and left my hands and body permanently paralyzed. I was left without hope of any gainful recovery or of ever being able to walk or use my hands again. The dawning realization that I was facing a lifetime of physical therapy and countless operations became a reality as I tried relentlessly to develop some motor skills in my arms. For therapy, I enrolled in a painting class where I quickly discovered the concept of art as a vehicle for self-expression. I wanted to create a visual diary that would document, through emotional visual metaphors, my new life as one of the physically challenged. My painting turned obsessively to self-portraits that glorified my role as a heroic martyr. While faithfully recording the anguish of paralysis and numerous surgeries, my paintings described a journey of physical pain, emotional revelations, and the underlying resolve to "brave the storm". Through the expressive physiognomy of my self-portraits, I was able to vicariously project attitudes and feelings that my body could no longer express.

As an artist, I am concerned with many issues in art and although the narrative holds a dominant position in my work, my paintings are designed to address the viewer on many levels. The sheer expressive content of my work oftentimes confronts the viewer head on, challenging him or her to experience my reality in a context that transcends the boundaries of an able-bodied existence. The paintings personally address any kindred spirit who has ever felt isolation, physical or emotional pain, dysfunctional relationships or loss of control. My impetus has never been to compete for the "cutting edge" in painting arenas, but rather to document the human condition. I found myself following in the footsteps of certain artists and writers whose discovery helped to validate within myself the autobiographical or highly personal nature of my work; artists such as Frida Kahlo, Ivan Albright, Russell J. Sether, Maya Angelou and countless other writers and poets. Like them, I discovered an inner strength and a certain freedom in disclosing all of my most intimate secrets to the world and my reward has been the intimate connection that I create with the viewer. UP FROM THE ASHES, my new series of paintings in progress, refers to the mythological Phoenix bird who according to legend, was consumed in fire and was then miraculously reborn out of its own ashes. I believe that like the Phoenix bird, we too are reborn each time we survive the fire of adversity and that our greatest inner strengths and compassion are gifts that are oftentimes born out of tragedy. We can only truly understand our humanity when we have been consumed by it.

The convoluted visual framework that weaves together the symbolic imagery in my work is designed to engage the viewer on yet another level. My paintings are a pictorial blend of exaggerated gestural images, improbable hand signals, artificial color, botanical references, symbolic iconography, anatomical anomalies, illusionistic "uncertainty" and a suspension of time, all of which are visually depicted within a single spatial reality. Typology, the study of symbols and/or a doctrine of theological "types" offers a broad base from which to gather the seeds for my "players". These symbols and character "types", combined with other visual stereotypes and my abundant use of religious iconography, such as Christ-like references, classical columnar architecture and drapery, idealization of the figure and Baroque compositional elements, are intended to infer parallel links between me and the archetypes depicted.

As a body of work, the paintings reveal not only my predilection for allegorical self-documentation, but also my passion for art history as well as the religious and expressive iconography of the Old Masters. I have this endless fascination with strong images and the emphatic weight of symbols, including everything from the old circus banners of the great American midway to classical, religious, and contemporary icons. Although my style reflects various periods in art it can not be attributed to any one movement in particular. My work borrows heavily not only from sixteenth and seventeenth century Mannerist and Baroque imagery as well as from the Renaissance, but also from the powerful and complex visual hyperbole of the surrealist movement. From within the conceptual framework of all these periods the visual genesis of my work is determined. In addition, I would like to revive the diminishing role of the allegorical language that was once so profound in classical narrative painting. My goal is not only to pay homage to these conventions in a manner that reflects the grandeur and high drama of those golden ages, but also to extract, distill and reinterpret those traditions into my own personal visual poetry.


ELISA TERRANOVA, 2001



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