Q&A with “Small Works” award-winner Theresa Esterlund

This month’s “Small Works” exhibit in The Art League Gallery, which ends December 5, includes two award winners. Theresa Esterlund‘s collage, Variation, won the Anne Banks Collage Award. We asked Theresa to tell us more about her work.

What was your inspiration or reason for creating Variation?
Theresa: This piece is part of my Utopia series works, which are explorations of imagination that pay homage to artist Joseph Cornell. Against a common background, a topographical map of Mount Everest, I situate images in nostalgic, dreamlike settings to create a sense of stepping into a story. Many of the Utopia works express themes of introspection, feminine identity, and life journeys; as a body of work, they aim to take the viewer through the fantastical scenes to a place of personal reminiscence or discovery. This particular piece is a variation on Cornell’s ballet dancer works.

Variation by Theresa Esterlund

How did the series start, and how has it changed?
I began my Utopia series in 2009. It’s evolved both in process and content. Recently, I’ve begun layering in more papers and inks in some of these works (a technique I use in other collages more frequently). In addition, my newest pieces have themes that are more shaped by my study of yoga than of the images and ideas that Cornell used. I think that this newer work will actually evolve into a different series at some point.

What would you like the viewer to come away with?
I hope that viewers walk away with a sense of mystery and wonder. Ideally, they would create their own story from the piece, based on their memories, dreams, and personal stories.

More after the jump:

How is your medium an integral part of your work? Why do you work in the medium that you do?
I enjoy bringing disparate or unusual items together to express something new. I find that composition comes more naturally to me, and working with collage enables me to be freer to express ideas visually (than I would be in painting or drawing, for example).

How would you describe your artistic process?
I’m a very intuitive artist, and my main focus is usually on the overall visual impact of a piece. My creative process may be initiated by a particular theme, concept, or composition, or the materials themselves may be the inspiration, and connections and messages emerge organically as the work progresses. Materials include ephemera like antique postcards and letters, photographs, postage stamps, sheet music, dress patterns, art papers, and pages from recycled books and vintage magazines. I layer with acrylics and ink, sometimes altering surfaces or adding 3-D items.

What technical element is most important in your work? Color, composition, line, etc?
Composition: I feel that a strong composition will move the viewer’s eye in a way that allows him/her to “enter” the work and become absorbed in it more deeply. Especially because I work small, I want the overall impact of the work to be felt by a viewer at a distance, drawing him/her in to look more closely.

Where do you see your work going next, or what are you working on now?
I have been studying yoga for many years and am currently in a yoga teacher training program. The intensive study of the training program has affected my work in that I’m beginning to bring in some of the meanings that are important to me in my yoga practice. For example, one of my most recent pieces — entitled Samsara — explores the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Do you have other works in the gallery this month?
Yes, I have one other piece in the “Small Works” show as well as one in the “What Art to Wear” show. I also have work in the Bin Gallery.

What, if anything, is different about a small work, either in the creative process or the end experience?
All of my work is quite small. I think that the kind of collage work I create is intricate and often quite layered and detailed, and the small format is best for my approach. In addition, I like the way that small works require closer looking because of their size and how close a viewer needs to be to really look at the work.

There are only a few days left to see Variation on display with the rest of the “Small Works” exhibit. After December 5, the gallery will close to prepare for next month’s exhibits — an all-media show and “Variations,” Guy and Marco Rando’s solo exhibit — which begin December 7.

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