One to Watch

Elyce Abrams

Elyce Abrams is a South African artist currently living and working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. She earned an MFA in Painting from the University of Arts, Philadelphia and a BFA in Painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. Elyce’s vibrant, geometric abstract paintings are explorations of color, composition, and movement. Her newer works are much more fluid, mirroring her ever-changing life and experiences as a new mother. For her current 100 Paintings series, Elyce will also experiment with works in a smaller format.

Elyce is the recipient of several awards, including an Artist’s Grant from the Vermont Studio Center and an MFA Merit Scholarship from the University of the Arts. She has been featured in FreshPaintMagazine and has an extensive exhibition history in the US. Most recently, her works were shown in The Narrative Panorama at Blank Space Gallery in New York City, the Abington Art Center Annual Juried Exhibit in Abington, Pennsylvania, and in the CONTEXT Art Fair during Art Basel, Miami.

What are the major themes you pursue in your work? 

Most of my work develops from what is happening in my life, what I’m interested in at the moment, and any challenges that might I might be facing. My most recent work began after taking a year off from painting when my son was born. I found that when I went back into my studio, my world felt very different and my concerns had vastly changed. I was deeply affected by our interactions, watching the development of his personality and the adjustment to my new reality. By interpreting these experiences in my work, I was able to explore their meaning and understand their value. My process also changed at this time, becoming much more fluid – echoing the fluidity of my continuously changing life. I found new meaning in color, composition, and movement.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

The best advice that I ever received was to always be honest in my work. This was part of an ongoing discussion during my time as an undergraduate, and at that point I didn’t completely understand what it meant. I had no reason to think that people weren’t honest in their work, but as I grew as an artist, I saw examples of when this wasn’t the case. This idea has guided me through many paintings. It taught me to trust myself and my instincts, and if ever I was headed in the wrong direction, this has pulled me back.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

I listen to talk radio (NPR) when I work. I never like to feel that I’m completely cut off from the world when I’m in my studio for hours and hours. Listening to conversations and news keeps me feeling connected. I find that I tune in and out while I’m working, sometimes becoming slowly aware of an interesting discussion after I’ve been in my own mind for awhile.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

I would want a Cy Twombly painting. Any one would do, but if I had to choose, it would be from his Fifty Days at Iliam suite that is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have visited these pieces many times and feel a special connection to them. His work has taught me so much, and it changed my view of painting when I was first introduced to it a long time ago. I always feel their power when in their presence.

Who are your favorite writers?

I read a lot of short stories. I like that these stories are often about a moment in time for the characters. The reader isn’t told about their whole lives and their past experiences–we are there for an event and the impact of that event. This reflects how I view my work. I am sharing a moment and my reflection of that moment, and the rest of the story is up to the viewer. Some of my favorite writers of short stories are Mary Gaitskill, Alice Munro, and William Trevor.