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Elisabeth Werp’s Haunting Paintings


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Elisabeth Werp’s Works of the Heart

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“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 slim, crystalline glasses, hang on to every word at the exhibit’s opening. It is a humid Thursday evening in Wynwood. If there is a textbook definition of an artist, it will not be too far fetched to imagine Werp herself, her statuesque Scandinavian frame a lithe figure drawn from one of her own paintings.

Her hand movements are as deliberate as strokes on canvas.

“These pieces,” she waves her hands towards her 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 you of a place you have once been to, whether in dreams or in a deeply embedded memory. Perhaps from a past life.

There is the grand piano, untouched except during a family reunion. It stands masterfully in the great hall of a grandparent’s colonial. There is the grandiose chandelier looming over the theatre, sparkling in dim yellows that soften the theatregoers’ pensive face.

Like white sails on the horizon, there is the ship leaving the dock, its sails blowing against a northeastern wind. You 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. Werp explains that destruction is an integral part of her process. She paints in the same manner that Renaissance artists painted, except 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 the tool closest to her. Sometimes it is sandpaper and other times, it is a sharp tool. Even if it is something beautiful that she loves, she runs the risk of never being able to re-create it, losing it forever.

“It’s the same in life,” she says.

Werp discusses her childhood, moments of solitude that have never left her. Anyone who has experienced a significant loss understands. A universal thematic, loving and losing family and loved ones, their ghosts continuously haunting. Werp’s paintings are haunting, to say the least. They are conversation pieces in any home. They are the kind of art that draws you in, begging you to understand it.

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