Elisa D’Arrigo

Balancing Acts
July 29, 2023   -   August 27, 2023

Each piece begins with an array of hollow hand-built cylindrical, spherical and rectilinear forms that I manipulate in a period of intense improvisation. I play with these forms, combining, cutting into them, recombining; all the while seeking a configuration that speaks to me, feels fresh and not fully known. Seams, edges and how the form sits, reclines, stands or even slouches all get a lot of attention.  

The vase is my muse with these works, and they require at least one orifice. That orifice, and the fact that work made of clay generally needs to be hollow, conjures a figural presence. The pieces are often taking a stance or in a paused position between moves. I feel the configurations in my own body, and their positions often record or express my own transitory states of mind. I am compelled by the ways we inhabit and imagine our bodies from the inside out — the inside creates the outside, and vice versa.

Clay is a good material for revealing the previously unthought. Improvisation is like a non-verbal introspection and allows what is around me to come into the work, revealing previously unconsidered possibilities. In-the-moment decisions yield forms that seem improbable yet also unexpectedly familiar, and I especially relish how asymmetry can generate an intrinsic humor.  The emerging forms develop identities, proclivities and telling details: a fold or bend might imply the inner crease of a bent arm, a jutting elbow, or an abdominal roll. 

As soon as I begin putting a form together, I’m thinking about surface and color and how they will affect that form – the two are inseparable and each affects the other.  While it usually takes a few days to construct a work, I may spend months glazing and re-glazing until I arrive at a result that allows the piece’s personality to be realized.

My work has evolved in a circular manner. There is an ongoing re-working and re-imagining of forms and process. I am using clay now, after a nearly 30 year hiatus, because I still have unfinished business with ceramics and what it elicits from me. Although I’ve varied materials and processes, including years of working with hand-stitched and laminated cloth, there has been a recurrence of concerns and images, such as references to the body, nature, and the expression of emotional states through abstract form.

In a 2019 catalogue essay for a solo exhibition at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, esteemed writer Nancy Princenthal described my works as  “incorrigibly unconforming sculpture”, and “a series of alarmingly potent little ceramic figures that engage our propensities for reverie, humor and perhaps most satisfying, deep human recognition.”

Since the pandemic, my pieces have become denser, more concentrated. Some of the works tend to be somewhat head-like and self–contained, as if conserving or summoning their inner resources. Others convey a figural twisting, wriggling attempt to re-position, seeking a provisional balance, a response to this unsettling time.

Elisa D’Arrigo
June, 2023

Elisa D’Arrigo currently works in ceramics, after a 30 year hiatus in which she worked with various materials including hand-stitched and laminated cloth. D’Arrigo’s process is improvisational; in-the-moment decisions yield forms that seem improbable, yet also unexpectedly familiar, with a frequent undertone of humor. Her pieces conflate color, surface and animated sculptural form within the context of the glazed ceramic vessel. 

D’Arrigo has had 21 solo exhibitions, and her work is held in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Everson Museum of Art, The Mead Art Museum, The High Museum of Art, The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, and The Weatherspoon Art Museum.

Reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Two Coats of Paint, ArtNews, Sculpture, Partisan Review, ArtPapers, ArtSpiel, Too Much Art and The New York Observer, among others. 

She has enjoyed residencies at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and Dieu Donne Papermill. She received a NYFA grant in 2003.

D’Arrigo received a BFA in Ceramics from SUNY New Paltz. She was born and grew up in the Bronx, NY, and lives in New York City.