When you say someone “can do it all,” it’s not always accurate. But Westport Artist Elise Black really can, exuding a “no fear” attitude and taking on challenges that combine her passions for design, building and fine art. We visited her at her home and studio recently to sew up her bio and hammer out a list her latest activities.
The youngest of three children, Elise was born in the largely middle class neighborhood of Laurelton, Queens and grew up just six miles away in Floral Park. Her dad was a NYC cop and handy — Elise recalls him building an extension onto their kitchen and loving that process of creating something. Mom was a homemaker and enjoyed cooking and gardening. “They were makers,” she said.
As a girl, Elise collected rusty pieces of metal, like washers, finding their shapes and patina interesting. Decades later, items like these would play into work she calls “Reconstituted Abstraction” — assemblages of unrelated items that take on a brand new identity, but with all their memories. The “bones” of an item fascinate her and the opportunity to fuse history and sentimentality, particularly with circular elements that, to her, represent the cycle of rebirth.
From the moment Elise started school, she has pursued art. In kindergarten, she took to bead making; in elementary school, it was watercolor painting; at 12, she was oil painting; at 16, it was hand-painted eggs. In her late teens, she was doing fashion illustration and designing clothes on paper and decided to pursue that at F.I.T.
After earning her degree, Elise set out creating presentation boards as an illustrator for May Department Stores. Then she was a staff illustrator for a children’s wear company. In the early 1980s, she was hired as a designer to create her own active wear line, and handled all the illustrating as well as the labels, silhouettes, merchandising and even sales strategies.
At the time, she was living on NYC’s Upper East Side, working in the garment industry and sculpting — mostly career focused until a marketing guy and salesman named Barry caught her eye. They married in 1990, moved to a home in Queens, then up to Westport the following year, to start a family.
When Julie, the first of three children, was 14 months old, the couple went on vacation to New Mexico. There, Elise got inspired by local artists to work in metal and, upon returning home, took up welding at Silvermine Arts Center in Norwalk, CT, enjoying the immediate gratification of the pursuit. A stay-at-home mom, Elise found “bits and pieces of time” to create art that was influenced by life and started to show professionally. In 1995, she took part in the Westport Downtown Merchants Art Show, then had some gallery representation in NYC, continuing to work in different mediums — space design, fine art, fabrics and assemblages.
In 2007, the family did a significant renovation of their then 20-year-old contemporary home, adding a studio and many flourishes and new features. Elise oversaw it all. “I’m an unusual artist, very diverse, loving design and building. I especially love when design, art and building come together,” said Elise.
That combination is now happening in a much bigger way in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the couple has designed and built a five-story apartment building, complete with an elevator and rooftop space — what Elise calls a “boutique residential property.” The structure features ten apartments, which will be rented out, and each is thoughtfully and beautifully designed, according to the artist. “The outside looks like a converted factory, and the inside features reclaimed materials, and there will be actual fine art on each floor,” says Elise.
The fine art she refers to is a series of paintings Elise is creating called the “Warriors of Williamsburg”, which are portraits that pay tribute to the cool hipsters in the area. There will also be large scale assemblages with area artifacts in the entry hall. A grand opening party is planned by the end of 2017. The project is truly a complete representation of everything about which Elise is passionate.
To learn more about Elise’s work, visit www.ReconstitutedAbstraction.com