Soho20 Member Interview: Elizabeth Bisbing

Elizabeth Bisbing

Elizabeth Bisbing

Elizabeth Bisbing has been a member of Soho20 since 2003. Her upcoming show, “More Life Than Still,” will be 9/3 – 9/28, with an opening on Friday 9/6 at 6:00pm. I was able to chat with Bisbing in her studio on Monday (7/7) about her show, her time at Soho20, and a program she is developing to bring art and positive female role models to young girls.  Find Elizabeth at


AR: What are you working on now?

EB: Well my work is painted paper collage: I paint the paper with gouache and then I assemble an image more or less using that. This show is going to have a lot of botany in it, and I’m also doing animation. There’s a little character named Betty Jane– which is me as a little kid– and she has all these adventures. It’s stop motion, so it takes a long time, but it’s interesting to play around with it, to see what you can get the doll to look like it’s doing. You know it’s just a paper doll.

AR: Wow, that sounds really labor-intensive.

EB: It is. First you have to make the set, which is a collage itself, and the doll as well. She has wire behind her so that you can move her and maintain continuity. She’s going to be killed in the two I’m working on now [laughs]. There was a series before this called Calamities based on when my sister and I were little kids and we would be somewhere and something would be coming that we didn’t see… I think these are coming from that place– an outgrowth of that idea.

AR: Can you describe your studio practice?

EB: Right now it’s been pretty much dominated by that project because, well, this is it [gestures around studio space]. I don’t really have a lot of room, so that’s pretty much that. When I’m working on collages I can have a couple projects going at a time, but for this kind of thing it takes up my whole space. I work small, so this is ok. but if I want to work bigger… you know you can’t control where it goes… then I don’t know. If you look under the table you will notice there is all sorts of stuff under there. That’s where I put my materials. I try to be very compact.

AR: Which I guess is something that most people in New York have to deal with.

EB: You have to learn how to deal. My husband just retired as a professor and there are books everywhere– really old philosophy books and things. I made the shelves.

Bisbing studio 1

AR: How do you participate in your art community?

EB: Actually I’m doing a collaboration with this project. My friend Aleena Worfe is composing music for these two videos. I really like that– I’ve always wanted to collaborate, but it’s hard when you’re a painter. People don’t want to collaborate with painters unless you’re doing a mural… And I really like having the community of Soho20. Here in New York there are a lot of artists, but you don’t know them. You might meet them and know their work, but it’s nice to really know people. This is the kind of work where you have to help each other, and I think Soho20 is a very supportive community for women artists. I’ve been there for about 10 years now.

AR: What brought you to Soho 20?

EB: Cynthia Mailman! She’s one of the original members. I was at grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts which is the kind of place where you go twice a year for ten days, but you mostly study at home with a local artist of your own choosing. So I chose her. She’s on the board now; she’s not a member. But, you know, you follow the people you’re interested in.

AR: Can you talk a little bit about artist-run spaces and women’s spaces?

EB: Commercial spaces are mostly men. It’s so hard. Artist-run spaces can be good; it depends on the quality of the artists and the quality of the artists’ commitment. Soho20 has really good artists, and we have a strong commitment from a good core group. We’ve been doing a lot of community outreach recently. And part of my work is about that. I have this project called the Her in Hero Project, which I made with another artist friend, Leslie Madigan. It’s for girls, mostly middle school age. I talk to them about the women who are my heroes: Hilary Clinton, Frida Kahlo, I could go on. And I have these collage cards that I make of these women without their faces. The girls make a “me card” for themselves– I give them stencils and all that– and they put their little picture over the hero cards. They’re imagining maybe they could be Hilary Clinton, or maybe they could be Michelle Obama or Sonia Sotomayor. We’ve done it around the city a few times.

AR: And where would you do something like that?

EB: The first one was with the Girl Scouts, and then at Art for Change in Harlem. We also did one with a group of women who were just completing a course for survivors of domestic violence. This was a celebration of them completing the course. We’re doing it again in August for a group just north of Nyack.

"It's just a paper doll"

“It’s just a paper doll”

AR: Do you have any advice that you would give to a young person just starting out as an artist?

EB: I would say that they should try to find other people who are working near them– maybe in a studio building or sketching group or something… just so they have some sort of link to other people. And I would also say that they should just do their own thing and try not to worry about what everyone else is doing. There tends to be these trends that people will do for a while, but they should just try to see what they’re doing and try not to listen to all the noise of the art world. Just try not to worry so much.

AR: If money was no object whose work would you buy? Or if that’s too hard, can you give us a couple must see exhibitions open right now?

EB: I have to say, I don’t really look at the big ticket items, because it’s just such a different world, but there are some really interesting painters out there right now. And I guess I already mentioned her, but I do love Frida Kahlo. Wouldn’t that be great to own a Frida Kahlo or a Mary Cassatt?  I also love Edouard Vuillard. He does these little intimate home things; it feels like you’re inside the house. My work has been about women, the house, home… you know, what our role is anywhere…

And there are some good shows around. If you want to go to a museum there’s a Ken Price show at the Met right now. He does these almost abstract forms in ceramics. I like that. There’s also the Civil War photography show there, which is really intense. It’s beautiful photography. The quality of the images is amazing considering this is a war, and you had to sit still for such a long time then for a photo.

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