A Chat with Elizabeth Mead
Describe the moment when you decided you wanted to be an artist.
I didn't decide to be an artist but I did decide to study art. Initially I thought I wanted to be a printmaker and that I could combine that with publishing. I was a rather impatient printmaker and always getting fingerprints in the margins. Then one day I took a sculpture class with Barbara Zucker. Suddenly she was giving form to all the questions that swirled in my head. Here was this activity that asked the questions that haunted me and, it exhausted me physically as well as mentally, a state I really needed when I was younger.
How would you describe your education?
My undergraduate degree is from Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts. During the time I was a student there, the sculpture department was divided into two camps, one that was completely immersed in the world of the figure and life observation, and the other in abstraction. Both areas shared a strong foundation seeped in philosophical thought and I was very fortunate to have been able to work within both of those worlds. Following my undergraduate studies, I worked as a studio assistant to the sculptor Philip Grausman. It was during that time I met the sculptor Jay Sullivan who was teaching at Amherst College. I had amazing conversations with Jay and decided he was the person I wanted to study under. Lucky for me, he accepted a position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; they have a fantastic graduate school. Toward the end of my graduate studies I became interested in the space between a performer and an audience. I was asked to design a Beckett play titled, "Play" and that started my work in theater. I worked with companies across the country including the Tony award winning Theater de la Jeune Lune. I studied at the Ecole Internationale Jacque LeCoq in Paris and was invited to attend workshop classes with Marcello Magna of Theatre du Complicite and Ming Cho Lee. The past couple of years I have been studying bookmaking at the Arts of the Book Center in Charlottesville and wood turning in the Pacific North West with Laura Yeats.
Whom are you currently influenced by and from where do you get inspiration to create your artwork?
The world around me is a constant influence.
What type of medium do you prefer working with? Tell me what compels you to work with said medium.
For more than twenty years, I worked almost solely in plaster. I liked the way it allowed me to build up and take down a form and I really liked that it was an intermediary material. It has fragility and does not come with the usual fine art designation; it doesn't claim the "value" of something like for example, bronze. I suppose it is kind of modest and I really like that. But a few years back I decided for a variety of reasons it was time to find another material. So I began experimenting which has led me to the wood turning and bookmaking.
What kind of medium or materials would you like to work on next? In other words, what do you wish to try?
There are some more forms I would like to try in porcelain and wood. While not new materials per se, I don't have full command of them and would like to push forward with them.
Are you currently working on any projects?
There are always several projects in the works but one in particular is the Inklings project with Carey Bagdassarian. We plan to keep working on the writing and drawings and hope to be able at some point to work with a letterpress artist.
Of the various art galleries in Williamsburg and its surrounding areas, how did you get involved with the Linda Matney Gallery?
Lee Matney contacted me last year about working with some of our students at William and Mary. I had been away on a research leave and was delighted to return to Williamsburg to find Lee has opened Linda Matney Fine Arts. He is really adding a new dimension to the growing arts community in Williamsburg.
I understand you're a well-traveled artist. Where and what was your most exhilarating exhibit/destination? In addition, where do you hope to travel to?
This is a hard question to answer, Japan was certainly an exciting place to work and exhibit and London is always a very, very productive place for me. Of course the minute I try to end there I realize I have to include Wyoming, the landscape and sense of time there has had a radical impact on me and on my work. I am deeply grateful for all of the places I have been able to work. At the moment, I am working on getting to Antarctica.
Last but not least, if you could work with any artist, living or dead, whom would you choose?
Pina Bausch! Hands down the most astounding artist I have ever encountered!
Simply put, Elizabeth Mead is quite the artist. I had the marvelous opportunity to study sculpture under her as a former student so it was only fitting that I accepted the task to interview her. Armed with an unparalleled eye for plaster-dominant pieces, her meticulous craftsmanship evokes a sense of equivocal realism and space in her sculptures and drawings. Mead, currently a professor at the College of William and Mary, has exhibited throughout the world - USA, Portugal, Japan, Korea and England. She designed over two dozen theatrical productions, having worked with the internationally-acclaimed Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis, MN and various theaters. You can see her works and statement at www.elizabethmead.com