Stuart Elster
Program Director, Fine Arts
Assistant Professor
MFA, Yale University
BFA, The University of the Arts

I am interested in paintings that enable me to question the relationship between authority and the individual. I believe in the role of the artist as a cultural commentator. For me, the representational aspect of painting acts as a form of protest. It can be a platform for the expression of artistic power in the face of authoritarian forces. Working within the structures and definitions of painting’s history, I combine traditionally opposed and/or antagonistic positions such as hierarchy and simultaneity, representation and abstraction, optical projection (perspective) and flatness (the grid), the sublime and the banal and humor and mourning, among other combinations in my work.

I have been working with a conceit of Pop Art’s iconic repartition of the cultural image/object. It is important for me to paint images that are products sanctioned by the state, rather than from private or corporate sources.

Money, specifically coins, has been the subject of my painting for some time and I find them the perfect metaphor. As a subject expressed through my painting, the coin acts as a lens to view the current cultural landscape. The penny in particular is also a metaphor for the meaning of painting itself (an ironic metaphor). I see it as a stand-in for any form of cultural currency. It can be seen as the lowest common denominator, the first building block. As a metaphor to the history of modern painting, the penny functions as an analogy to the grid, they both measure expansion and contraction, growth and decline. The grid is also the point where abstraction and representation collide, in abstraction as a blue print of the picture plane, and simultaneously in representation as the point of projection for linear perspective.

I juxtapose a coin’s flatness as an object against the flatness of it as an image, depicting its surface and bending its representation spatially through anamorphic distortion, color and surface manipulations into abstraction. These distortions illuminate questions between naming and knowing, seeing and obscuring, or seeing and blindness. Constructing a privileged point of view within the image through masking representation in the guise of abstraction, distortion functions to question the nature of visual access. When viewed from the proper vantage point, the distortion reveals the painting’s subject; change in pockets or discarded on streets, collected in jars and bowls as home banking systems. Coins are also an accumulation of the history of power in America, as official state portraits of presidents. 

Like the original function of metaphor, my painting uses a private language spoken publicly. The paintings are pictures of objects with portraits carved in relief represented in the form of landscapes. It is in the in between space of definition and the recognizable that I find the movement from the banal to the expressive, the specific from the general, and the passive to protest.

Solo exhibitions: Lucas Schoormans Gallery, NYC. 

Two-person and group exhibitions: Tate Gallery, Marvelli Gallery and Schroeder Romero Gallery, NYC; Happy Lion Gallery, Los Angeles, Calf.; School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the DePaul University Art Museum, Chicago, Ill.; Herter Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass. 

International group exhibitions: Italy, France, Austria and a traveling invitational exhibition of international artists, “Islands and Ghettos,” Heidelberg and Berlin, Germany. 

Bibliography: The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Tema Celeste magazine, Heeb magazine, and the Kunstforum International. 

Visiting artist and guest critic: Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Yale University Norfolk summer program, Norfolk, Conn.; School of Visual Arts, NYC; DePaul University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

Class Schedule, Fall 2015

08:30AM - 11:20AM
01:00PM - 03:50PM
Advanced Studio Practice

Contact Info

Office: Anderson Hall 8TH
Tel: 215-717-6496
Fax: 215-717-6632