"It's like Van Gogh walked through the forest while on a fever dream," remarked one visitor during Third Fridays at the 78th Street Studios, accurately describing artist Eileen Dorsey's paintings. Dorsey has been on our radar for some time. From "Watch It Wednesdays" at the studios, where patrons can watch artists at work, to the Dice Game, Dorsey's Friday Facebook post where anyone can purchase a featured painting at a discount determined by a roll of the dice, her dedication to her craft has definitely pushed the artist into the public eye.
We took the opportunity to hang out with Dorsey recently in her studio/gallery to talk about her work as she prepares for the throngs of people who walk through each Third Friday. We notice immediately that she has a new style emerging. The painter is known for her landscapes, thick impasto of oil paint on the surface. One might say that it's as if the Fauvists met up with the Impressionists and did some hallucinogens. "I can't tell you how many times people have told me my paintings look like acid trees," says Dorsey. She continues after a laugh, "I have actually been approached at least once by a guy asking me if I had any LSD. I'm like, are you serious? You think I actually have that and that I'm selling it during Third Friday? No, no, absolutely not, dude."
Her paintings are meaty and textural. The leaves seem to almost pop off the canvas and into a pile underneath them. On one side of studio, the work is very leafy; and on the other, not so much. "I try to change it up every Third Friday. I want to showcase some of my newer work, as well as keep some work that people are more familiar with."
We talk about acrylics versus oil paint. "With the acrylics, I'm almost trying to play a game with your eye," says Dorsey, "I start with an established palette of (my own) premixed colors and start with a background. I build each layer and then take the original colors and try to distort what the background and the foreground is, but still have these shapes that float on top, where one's eye moves around and tries to figure out what's going on. With the oil paintings, there's an established source (lighting) in the foreground and background." We talk about tools of the trade, and she continues, "I apply the oils with a palette knife and mostly I'm only using one size; I have a favorite one and it has the right give. I've had palette knives break on me because I've been too aggressive with the way I was painting. The acrylic paintings, I'm using different size brushes. I have a spray bottle in my non-painting hand and work instinctually with spraying and wiping down the surface and re-working it. The colors are a bit more vivid in the acrylic paintings."
Dorsey used to work on panels but, as she put it, they always seemed to chip on the sides and no matter how much gesso she put on the supports, over time she felt like the oil paint just sucked into the wood, causing the paintings to dry unevenly. She now works with canvas mounted onto panels.
"I started putting the canvas over the panels and it's just easier to transport them that way," she says. "When it's just canvas there's the threat of puncturing the canvas or bruising it (imagine someone punching the canvas and leaving an indentation), and over time that's going to break down the paint."
The new work is branching off the big mural in her studio. It's looser, more gestural. "I did a small section of that mural during the second Watch it Wednesdays," she says. "It was one of those things I did on a whim and wanted to work big, and I had nothing to paint on, so I painted on the wall, thinking I would cover it up. It came naturally that I did a wooded scene. I thought, 'Oh cool, people can see that I do murals,' because people don't seem to associate 2-D artists with doing murals, as strange as that sounds." Last September, Dorsey collaborated on a large mural on the Stockyard Meats building with Chicago-based artist Ish Muhammad in conjunction with Graffiti Heart, Land Studio and Gordon Square Arts District.
"People love to see paintings in progress," she says. "I'm painting from background to foreground. Often people think they are winter scenes when they are halfway finished, which is interesting. If they are regular Third Friday visitors, they stop by to see how the paintings are moving forward."
This spring, Dorsey started creating a series called Hogsback Lane, based around multiple visits to the same spot on the Valley Parkway, in the Metroparks. "There are some really beautiful trees at the bottom and I started taking reference photos last fall and have been getting good responses from those paintings in progress," she says.
One can almost hear the wildlife when looking at Dorsey's paintings. "I love these dense, wooded areas. The temperature changes, the sounds, the smells ... it takes you out of wherever you are , in your day-to-day. That's why people connect with it.
"You make work and you are, like, you hope people will like it, and you like it, and you are on a constant journey of discovery. Making a living off what you love doing is insane, and I can't believe it's real sometimes."
It's almost like a fever dream.
For more information about Eileen Dorsey and her work, go to eileendorsey.com.