Eileen Dorsey’s “10×10” Exhibition Celebrates 10 Years of Work
For the past ten years, painter Eileen Dorsey has been toiling away in her first floor 78th Street Studios space. One of the original tenants when the building was converted, she is celebrating this milestone with an exhibition of new work – ten canvases that are 10″ x 10″, each representing a year of her practice. It’s a fascinating idea, and one that I’ve never seen an artist undertake – for each of her yearly paintings, Dorsey has gone back to the technique and style of painting she had at the time, as well as the subject matter that interested her during that year.
Far from mere studies, these are fully realized paintings – featuring little snippets of natural views – hung on the wall like a family slideshow, each one a slice of the artist’s past. To make these, she dug back through her source materials, revisiting the photographs she used to create her paintings years ago.
As you can imagine, it was an extremely difficult process, sifting through old memories, trying to reconnect to the past. But can one truly go back? Can one even attempt to re-create the past? Dorsey explained:
“It was difficult to try and replicate the styles of each of the years. So much time has passed and my technique has evolved. My approach, interest and influences all have changed. The only way I could pay homage to each year of work was to look back at the work and see what the commonalities were. What scenes was I painting? Was I using a specific palette of colors? These were some questions I asked myself.”
The resulting paintings stand like little windows into the past – tiny glimpses of past places, past challenges, and even past relationships. As you can imagine, it was an extremely emotional process. As Dorsey explained: “It was challenging in so many ways, not just technically but emotionally. Digging through my old source material was like digging in the past. Many of my old photo references were taken with my ex partner on trips we have gone on and that was hard to see, but the shining light is that I gained new insight on the growth of my work.”
In addition to the ten paintings, Dorsey created what she’s referring to as her “Year Zero” painting – going all the way back to when she moved into her studio, when she was still largely a figurative painter. Hanging on the back wall is a new self-portrait, and it’s a revelation – one of the best paintings I’ve seen her undertake. Painted with the gusto and palette of her most vibrant work – her style is immediately recognizable (so much so that the canvas nearly blends into the mural painted on the wall where it hangs).
But the figure is clearly there, quiet, eyes closed, arms crossed, slowly being engulfed by fragments of vegetal elements and brushstrokes right there on the canvas. It appears as if she has literally stepped into one of her trademark forest scenes, and is pausing, taking a breath, taking it all in. “I have always felt a sense of wonder when I had the trees surrounding me,” says Dorsey, “like I have stepped into a whole new world with its own sounds, temperature and creatures” – and that is precisely what I see here. It is a true depiction of self and her relationship to the work over the years, surrounding her, sometimes obscuring her, engulfing her, but ultimately embracing her fragile form. After ten years, and going through the incredibly challenging exercise of revisiting all those years on canvas, it seems that Dorsey has reached a new understanding not only of her past, but of her future. And I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.
Don’t miss Dorsey’s Exhibition Preview Party tonight, Thursday, September 12, at 6pm. She will have several limited items available including $10 discounts on purchases of $50 or more, new prints, small paintings and a very new addition to the studio, a monograph catalog of her work from 2010-2017 (also available on amazon). More info about the opening here.