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Painting Perceptions, Elizabeth Geiger In Studio

I am very pleased to be able to share this email interview with Elizabeth Geiger and I’m grateful for her generosity to be able to hear about her experience and insights into her process and intense engagement with painting.

From Geiger’s website:

"Elizabeth Geiger majored in painting at the University of Virginia and continued her studies at the New York Studio School and the Vermont Studio Center. She is married to figurative painter Philip Geiger and they have two children studying art in college.
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Geiger has won a fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and shown regularly throughout the East Coast. Her work is in the collection of the Sheltering Arms Hospital Richmond as well as the Clay Center Museum of Fine Art in Charleston, WV.

Known for her dramatic still life paintings, she has recently also focused her painting practice on landscape. Along with her regular teaching at the Beverley Street Studio School in Stuanton, VA, she has been a visiting artist at the College of William & Mary and the Kentucky College of Art & Design, spoken at Washington & Lee University and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, taught landscape painting at the Mount Gretna School of Art and leads workshops throughout the Eastern United States.”
Elizabeth Geiger is represented by Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA.

From April 2010 American Artist by John A. Parks

"Although Geiger has often painted the figure and landscape, she finds that she tends to concentrate on still life. “The still life has become predominant because of the freedom it gives me to choose arrange, and edit a setup,” she says. “Or as a friend of mine puts it—I am the writer, producer, and director of my own opera.”

When asked how she would like viewers to respond to her work, the artist is hesitant. “In some ways, I don’t want to pin it down,” she says. “I don’t have an easy answer or a written agenda, and I’m amazed when I meet a contemporary artist who seems so sure about what their work is doing.”
The artist does say, however, “Visual beauty is my first desire, not narrative content. I would like the viewer to be left with the desire to return to the painting. I hope that the visual experience of the whole picture adds up to a great deal more than the mere process of description.”

From an essay written for the Gross McCleaf gallery:

"Geiger’s approach to painting is a balance of immediate gestures and calculated decisions. Her brushwork contains an energy that is closely connected to the carefully chosen objects that appear in her still life compositions. Geiger begins by finding something in a familiar object or setting that surprises her and, while painting, she often stands in a position looking down on her motif in order to create an intimate viewpoint.

Geiger says of her work,
“My paintings begin with a feeling of excitement—a rightness with the light. A feeling of space, a group of forms, a chord of colors can all start the process. A good set up feels like a memory—one I would like to have. My objects are so familiar at this point that I am free to alter the arrangement at any time while I am working. My concern has begun to shift from the meaning of the objects to the light on them as the subject. I continue to reinterpret still life painting. Inspiration can come from a landscape, a portrait, a poem, or an abstract pattern. My original motivations or musings about the set up may not remain clear, but I hope the drama and mystery evoked by the objects and the paint itself stay with the viewer.”

Larry Groff:  What lead you to become a painter?

Elizabeth Geiger:  When I was about 10 or 12 my father told me that the portrait of a man wearing a turban in our living room was painted by my grandmother. Surprised, I asked if there were other paintings and my father said, “No – she stopped painting. She said it was too hard.” I was curious …was it really THAT hard? Well, Grandma, it is. But it’s more fascinating than anything I could imagine.

LG:  I understand you first majored in math before you changed to become an art student. I’m curious if geometry or other mathematical aesthetics like dynamic symmetry has ever played a role, either conscious or unconscious level in your compositions?

Elizabeth Geiger:  My first art classes at the University of Virginia was a refreshing change from my prep school education of lectures where I would read, memorize, and then write a paper. School had been predictable. I liked math best and planned on becoming a math teacher. But math could be creative—reviewing homework in advanced math classes was like an art critique. Students solved problems on the board and the teacher discussed how the problems were solved and if the student could have done it better. In my math classes, simplicity was the goal. If problems were solved in a more direct way with fewer steps, the solutions were praised as elegant. I would return to this aesthetic later in art class. Some math professors in college would ask me to draw things on the board for them like a Torus (donut shape) rotating in space. I definitely have a mathematical mind—but I see the connections between math and art, not the differences. Mixing colors and composing are about proportions, drawing about finding an underlying geometry, and studying higher math felt cosmic and spiritual.