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Teresa Elliott — The Strange Familiar

Teresa Elliott - Emperor's Thunder II

Teresa Elliott - Emperor's Thunder II
oil - 36 x 48 inches

Let’s take “Emperor’s Thunder” for example. Behold a magnificent longhorn bull viewed from the North, as he faces West, late in the day. He is implacable, eternal. He looks upon his realm with regal indifference. Why shouldn’t he be utterly the master of this world, this vast, empty plain, devoid of all life except for he and the grass, sprawling to infinity?

And, speaking of the infinite, look at the sky. The sky in Elliott’s work is the soundtrack to film — always there, perceived mainly by the unconscious, it is the element hidden in plain sight (or sound) that sets the emotional tone for the piece.

Teresa Elliott - Brangus Calf

Teresa Elliott - Brangus Calf
oil - 24 x 24 inches

The sky in this example is somewhat bland, but nevertheless plays its part. Elsewhere, her skies can be seen as nothing if not portentous. In “Brangus Calf,” the subject nearly breaks the plane of the piece bearing an expression which might be read as inquisitive. Note the weirdly green and black sky, clouds scudding in from the North with the last glimmers of a pink sunset shining over low mountains and mesas in the far distance.

Teresa Elliott - High Plains Calf

Teresa Elliott - High Plains Calf
oil - 48 x 36 inches

In “High Plains Calf” the animal is again staring directly at the viewer, flooded by the light of a rising or setting sun. I see it as a setting sun, the sky either clearing from an onslaught of violent weather, or that same weather gathering.

Look closely. Are these pieces sentimental depictions of a bygone era — Home on the Range? Indeed, are they ‘Western Art’?

Elliott’s work sells for handsome sums through the Edmund Craig Gallery in Ft. Worth, and through the Manitou Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you are a purveyor of Western Art, you would definitely want her work on your walls. They are magnetic, majestic images that frame an open window to the imaginal world in which her ruminants roam.

Her beasts are the strange familiar that make Surrealism what it is: the familiar object or creature in a setting to which it does not naturally belong, or in a setting transformed. Elliott’s strategy is similar to Magritte’s. In explaining “Time Transfixed,” Magritte said: "I decided to paint the image of a locomotive … In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery — the image of a dining room fireplace — was joined."

Teresa Elliott - Mystic Outlook

Teresa Elliott - Mystic Outlook
oil - 40 x 60 inches

The hyper-realism and stasis of Elliot's beasts in their otherwise empty worlds pose a mystery, and it is the mystery that transfixes. Certainly, the Texas and West of the imagination are nothing if not skies and limitless spaces. They are as much a part of our inner landscape as the bowlers, umbrellas, and quiet cityscapes were to Magritte.

This livestock is not presented as simple nostalgia for the Old West. These tableaus are static, eschewing the frenetic, twirling, leaping energy of the tradition. Nor is their any invocation of the American sublime. She does not ‘stroke the tropes,’ and by refusing to succumb to the Romantic undertow, she gives us a new and inhuman world, a post-apocalyptic in which beast is lord.

Teresa Elliott - Wyoming Paint Brush

Teresa Elliott - Wyoming Paint Brush
oil - 48 x 36 inches

But then, the fun is in the guessing. It may well be that these gorgeous images, so real that they are truly abstract, are only pictures of cattle and horses, and nothing more. Elliott has imbued each image with so much mysterious atmosphere that the viewer is pulled beyond the painted surface and into contemplation of the world portrayed. It is most definitely not the Old West.

Guesses, only guesses. For this writer, art worth remembering gives us a world beyond our own, or, our own transformed to reveal a hidden truth, often hidden in plain sight. The image becomes an object of meditation or wonder. The imagination’s habit of story telling tries to decide if we are seeing the beginning, the middle, the end, or the beginning of the end.

With Elliott’s cattle, we’ll never know, and there lies the thrill.

 

Other DallasArtsRevue stories by Jim Dolan. His personal website with more stories and poems.

Teresa Elliott images for this story were ripped from her website at www.teresa-elliott.com/

All Contents of this site are Copyright 2007 or before by publisher J R Compton.
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