Elizabeth Barlow

Artist Statement

Inspired by the portraiture tradition, but working within the still life genre, I use objects, rather than faces or bodies, to explore the human experience. I call this body of work “portraits in absentia.” These paintings illuminate the inner essences of lives and of how they are lived, of families, of relationships. I paint my subjects’ cherished possessions —  or beloved garden flowers — rather than their faces, to bring a fresh vantage point from which to consider identity.

To me, a cherished, personal object — a pair of shoes, a beloved book, a garden flower, a golf ball, or a shirt — retains something of the essence of the person who chose them. With the perspective of a cultural anthropologist, I view the things with which we surround ourselves as both containing and revealing the shape of our lives.

I relish pondering the inner character of my subjects. They can be people I know or people who have deeply inspired me. I meditate first on their character and story — are they playful, intellectual, shy, bold, serene, witty? I then select objects that symbolize these complex and perhaps contradictory aspects of their inner selves and work to capture it in the compositional arrangement of their intimate objects. Using color and shadow, I amplify these seemingly mundane things into a work of art that reveals truths about their lives and personal journeys.

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