By Bonnie Gangelhoff
What inspired your winning painting? In my new series, I am painting the shoes of people whose stories I want to tell. For me, shoes are both intimate objects and cultural artifacts. So, when I heard about the subject of this painting, I knew I had to paint her. She is a social columnist with an incredible shoe collection, but she also goes to Burning Man festival every year. I loved that she wears extravagant shoes in her “regular” life and also seeks self-expression in such an unexpected way. I enjoy trying to peel back the layers of the onion in my subjects.
Do you come from an artistic background? My father, Philip Barlow, is one of my art heroes. I grew up with his paintings in our house and visiting his galleries.
Where did you study art? Once I found my calling as an artist, I took classes in San Francisco and ultimately earned a certificate from the extension program at the University of California, Berkeley. I also had the great privilege of taking classes at the Art Students League of New York.
What is your favorite subject matter and why? I have always been drawn to still-life painting and portraiture. Give me a museum with Chardin and Sargent, and I am in heaven. In my newest work, I am fusing the two genres, and I call these paintings “portraits in absentia.” I use shoes as stand-ins for the people to create allegories of contemporary life.
What is the best advice you have ever received? From my father, who said, “Never be satisfied.” I hope to follow this advice for the rest of my life, always seeking to paint more beautifully and truthfully.
What is the most meaningful recognition you have received for your artwork? I did a “portrait” of a friend’s father—a 99-year-old cattle rancher who had recently passed away. I painted the dress boots he wore every year to the Pendleton Round-Up. When I showed the painting to my friend, he was silent a long time. Then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “You have captured his spirit.”
Representation: District Gallery, Park City, UT; www.elizabethbarlowart.com.
Featured in December 2011.