Judith Eisler


interview by ASHLEY GARNER / artwork by JUDITH EISLER

As Godard said,‘The cinema is truth at 24 frames-per-second’ but what fragments of these stories remain undetected? Fleeting moments, lost to part of a broader narrative. New York born artist, Judith Eisler seeks to explore these obscure moments through her art, magnifying their understated beauty.

Monrowe sat down with Judith to discuss her practice, creative journey and how these evanescent cinematic moments continue to inspire her.

How do you choose the films that inspire your paintings?
Eisler: I watch so many different films and I am always interested to hear about people’s favorites. Recommendations are a big source of inspiration, but then I get interested in a director, or an actress, or a time period and go down all sorts of paths.
Why paint film stills?
Eisler: I was working from still photographs of animals for a number of years. I was trying to document the animal’s potential for movement in these paintings. I started working from film stills because they were much less resolved than still photos. I like the abstractions that show not only what is present, but also indicate what just happened and what will happen.
Is there a particular film that has inspired you the most in your career?
Eisler: That is a difficult question! One of my favorite films is Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s film Performance. The editing, the questioning of identity and madness, the music, the images and the performances document an excessive and hallucinatory late 60’s London- but it is timeless.
Do you remember the first image from a film that you painted?
Eisler: In 1995 I painted a rat from the George Lucas’ film THX1138. I was working from photographs of animals at the time and while watching the film, I noticed a rat run across the screen very quickly. I took a photo and liked the abstractions of motion that were present in the still image. When I showed the painting, which is 72 x 96 inches, people thought it was a depiction of a tornado. 
What is it about the subject matter of films that interests you more than say, TV shows? 

Eisler: I did make several paintings from Fassbinder’s 1973 World on a Wire which was originally made for German television. I watch TV and movies on a monitor but I tend to take images from films from earlier decades because I appreciate the lack of technology. For instance, in the making of The Exorcist, in order to achieve supernatural effects, the set had to be refrigerated so that the actors breath would become visually apparent. The bed appeared to be levitating but that was because people were physically lifting it up behind a wall. Now all these efforts have been supplanted by CGI and FX.  I gravitate toward film because it is generally a more concise and time-based medium than TV, which functions as a serial enterprise. I am drawn to the changes a character experiences during the duration of the film and I am interested in documenting a pivotal expression or instance that might otherwise be overlooked.


It seems you’re mainly interested in female heroines such as Elizabeth Taylor. What is it about these women that intrigue you? 
Eisler: I am intrigued by the dichotomy between their very public personas and their interiority and vulnerability. When I paint actresses or actors it is about documenting something human which flares up in an artificial context. 
You range between color to black and white, red tones or blues. How do you select your color palette?
Eisler: When I take photos I am usually trying to document a light source or a peripheral moment, so color is not the first thing that I am looking at. In the past, I accepted the images as they were printed by a lab. It made the source material more of a found object. Now I print the images myself and lately have been tweaking the colors in Photoshop. I am interested in taking the image to a more heightened or artificial place.
Recently you’ve transitioned from oil on canvas to graphite on paper. What sparked this transition? 
Eisler: My focus is painting but I’ve been making drawings for quite some time. 
Sometimes I make a drawing and a painting of the same image but often the images I choose for drawings will not work as a painting and vice versa. It’s an important way for me to understand the structure of the image without the distraction and emotional resonance of color.
I. Gena, oil on canvas, 61 x 92 cm, 2012.
II. Minnie Moore, oil on canvas, 102 x 127 cm, 2005.
III. Dorothy 2, oil on canvas, 147 x 193 cm, 2014.
IV. PA & BG, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm, 2012.
V. Marissa Reclining, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, 2012.
VI. Petulia, oil on canvas, 147 x 193 cm, 2007.
VII. John, oil on canvas, 122 x 152 cm, 2008.