“I have painted into each piece,” says Elisabeth Werp, the Norwegian painter showcasing her latest exhibition at Rostad Edwards Fine Art. “A puzzle… a little something that will not, or might not, be noticeable at first sight.”
The hushed crowd, slowly aerating wine in perfectly slim, crystalline glasses, hung on to her every word at the exhibit’s opening on a humid Thursday evening in Wynwood. If there was a textbook definition of an artist, it would not be too far fetched to imagine Werp herself, her tall Scandinavian frame a lithe figure drawn from one of her own paintings. Her hand movements as deliberate as strokes on canvas.
“These pieces,” she waves her hands towards the fine paintings before surrendering them to her heart again, “Are meant to be gently discovered. They are meant to live in a family, in a home, for a long time, and with each glance, with each bit of attention that you give it, you are meant to discover something new, something that wasn’t quite there before, and now it is. Why? Because you are a different person from the last time you saw it.”
Faraway Nearby is an apt description of her pieces, and of the artist herself. At first sight, the paintings remind the viewer of a place they have once been to, whether in dreams or in a deeply embedded, long forgotten memory, perhaps in a past life. There’s the grand piano, untouched except at Thanksgiving, standing masterfully in the great hall of a grandparent’s colonial. There is the grandiose chandelier looming over the theater, sparkling in dim yellows that soften the theatergoers’ pensive faces. Like white sails on the horizon, there’s the ship leaving the dock, its sails blowing mildly against a northeastern wind. One can almost hear a tune from long ago playing on a gramophone as spirits of the past move their dancing bodies in a now defunct town hall.
The paintings feel like home even though Werp explains that destruction is an integral part of her process. She paints in the same manner that the Renaissance greats used to paint, but in reverse. Each layer of paint has a little less oil than the previous layer, resulting in a cracked effect. Months into each painting, she destroys her work with whatever medium closest to her, whether it’s sandpaper or a sharp tool. Even if it is something beautiful that she loves, she runs the risk of never being able to re-create it, and losing it forever.
“It’s the same in life,” she says. Werp discusses her childhood, moments of sadness and solitude that seem to never fully leave her, as anyone who has ever experienced a significant loss can attest to. It’s a universal thematic, loving and losing family and loved ones, their ghosts continuously haunting. Werp’s paintings are haunting to say the least, conversation pieces in any home. The kind of art that draws you in at first sight and begs to strip one’s façade.