Years ago I was walking through a building at my university and found an abandoned copy of An Introduction to Symbolic, 3rd Edition by Susanne K. Langer. I love a free book, so I had to take it.
The book really intrigued me since I had no clue what “Symbolic Logic” even was. I learned about using symbols in place of language. I found it interesting that something expressed so mathematically can take the form of something visual as well. Similar to artists infusing meaning to the symbols, and how certain symbols through art have developed into cultural markers: Andy Warhol and his Campbell Soup Cans, Frida Kahlo and her self-portrait, the smile of the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci.
This month’s Vagabond City artist, Eliza Finck, has a strong personal lexicon that contains an array of symbols used in her work. Eliza’s multimedia pieces stretch and play with physical material. With it is an overarching narrative of her exploring a personal mindscape where elements repeat, new forms are conjured, and dimensions are pushed. I kept finding myself referencing each work to derive new meanings and see what motifs continue to appear in her pieces.
CW: this article mentions and explores topics of mental health, substance usage, and stalking
Tell me who you are, where you’re currently based, and how you would describe yourself as an artist.
Eliza: My name is Eliza. I’m from mid-Missouri, and now I am in Kansas City, Missouri. I went to undergrad for Fine Arts where I emphasized Painting and Fibers. Now I do a lot of multimedia work. I think I use more drawing than painting nowadays; I just happen to use paint whenever I draw.
I’m really curious about what your process is like when you create your work. Is there a way you can describe step-by-step?
I always start and end with writing. Whenever I was a kid, I originally wanted to be a poet. Writing is really key to my process.
I put on a solo show in December, and it was completely linked by writing. So you would look at a piece and then look at a poem. In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten into this habit where once I finish a piece I don’t know what it’s about until it’s over. Whenever I’m finding what that piece is about, I’ll write up a piece of prose, or a short essay from the view of that artwork. Something along the lines of, “I’m a painting, I was created at this time.” And that has helped me find meaning to my work.
When it comes to finding imagery in my practice, I’ve been making a lot of pieces about my own mental space. So I’ve been using anonymous figures, a lot of bright colors, glitter, and little ephemera that I find just living life.
So when you say, “anonymous figure”, is that kind of like the ones found in forM, myself, thinking, and Fear Arc?
Eliza: When I came back from New York last summer, I stopped making for like seven months and then I started working on myself, thinking. That piece took me months because I lost myself, and I just needed to create something that didn’t have so much pressure. I felt like a “little crouched thing”; I was being suffocated by my own pressure to create.
forM, that’s a recent work that ties to myself, thinking. That’s more about breaking out, and reflecting on where I’m at now. I’ve really taken pressure off myself to create.
I love that conversation between the two of them. myself, thinking is very encapsulated inside of the work. While in forM, the figure is breaking outside of its boundaries, and even breaking through dimensions!
I’m curious about Fear Arc because there are a lot of symbols at play. There is text incorporated, I see an eagle in there, a variety of flowers, and a shower scene. Could you tell me more about the meaning behind those?
I created this piece in February. I had a really scary experience where I was out of town for a few months in the desert and kind of roughing it in the wild. The first night I came back home I went to a concert, then a club, and there I got drugged. This same time someone had tried to break into my apartment.
It was a super scary experience where I woke up with a concussion. I was pretty injured and all this crazy stuff, but I ultimately came out okay. In that experience, I realized that I had lost a lot of the anonymity that I feel safe in, where I was like, someone saw me, decided that I was a target, and then followed me home and took actions to try to get to me. That “fear arc” is about losing that sense of anonymity.
The text behind it says, “My fears have grown legs, and now they walk.” On the base, it says, “safety in being a number.” I think that line speaks to a lot of women where we do things in groups as a manner of safety like going to the bathroom in groups.
It’s a really great piece with a message and story that is unfortunately shared by a lot of people. There’s a variety of media you incorporate that pull me in, and the narrative elements make me want to stay and find out more.
For you, what does it mean to be an artist?
A lot of my art is very emotional. It stems from journaling, and wraps in a lot with my mental health. For me being an artist is a way for me to stay functional, and not almost imploding with the weight of feelings.
I also very much believe that being an artist means acknowledging what’s going on in the world around you, and where your art fits in a historical context. For me I’m trying to open up a little bit more of a conversation about the less spoken aspects of bipolar disorder and mental health.
People have told me “you make such beautiful paintings about such scary events.” And I’m like, “these aren’t really scary events. I saw things that weren’t there. But it wasn’t scary. It just was there.” In a way, it is really beautiful. Sometimes things that are unusual to other people can be really fascinating and fantastic.
Right. You’re just, you know, working with the reality that you have and wanting to share it.
Eliza Finck is an artist currently based in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s a graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO where she studied Painting and Fibers. Her work can be found on Instagram @eliza.finck.