Elizabeth Torrance is a figurative artist with an MFA in Sculpture from San Jose State University and a BFA in Crafts from The College for Creative Studies in Detroit. She has exhibited nationally in venues including The American Museum of Ceramic Art, The De Young Museum, and The Deluth Art Institute. She studied at Ox-Bow School of Art, Pilchuck Glass School, Penland School of Crafts, and Anderson Ranch, and was an artist in residence at Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana. She currently resides in the Bay Area and works out of Faultline Artspace in Oakland.
Grounded in an exploration of art historical imagery, my work addresses issues of gender, beauty, and ornament. It accentuates tension between the tangible human form and classical and contemporary ideals. I understand the body as a cultural site, not static, but constantly being remade. It is a site of alteration, intervention, and adjustment in pursuit of an ideal.
I work from photographic references to recreate individual women’s bodies: their weight, their deterioration, their particular asymmetries and idiosyncrasies. In Western culture we are surrounded by images of women’s bodies, but they fall within a culturally accepted range of body shape, age, health, and femininity. I sculpt bodies that are seldom featured in our culture, contrasting human imperfection with the idealized, stylized, and sexualized beauty that we normally encounter. The bodies that I create are cropped or truncated. This disconnection enables me to isolate portions of the body from the whole, flesh from self. They become elements in a larger composition, still human but also viewable as form alone.
I turn to the world of Art History as a way of tracing cultural understandings of the body through time. My work has drawn both content and formal properties from religious paintings of the Renaissance. The colors, gestures, and ornamentation reference depictions of the Virgin Mary and particularly Maria Lactans, or Nursing Virgin imagery of the time. By drawing from Mary’s potent imagery I connect the ideals of the past with our contemporary understanding of female beauty and form.
The work that I am currently sculpting draws inspiration from the height of French Decorative Arts before the Revolution. I am interested in the use of the female figure as pure ornament; their bodies were sculpted into desks, candelabras and vases, stitched into tapestries, and painted onto walls. Their curves match the curves of the vanity they adorn, or the candlestick they lace their body around. They hold up fireplaces, shelves and urns.
These French figures, and the ornate paintings of the Virgin are displays of wealth, power, and refinement. Beauty is an historical tool of seduction and manipulation used to draw people in and sway their minds, hearts, and behaviors. Religious and secular leaders have wielded Beauty for their own means throughout the centuries. It is apparent in the construction of awesome cathedrals, delicate stained glass windows, carvings, sculptures, and elaborate paintings.
Beauty is concentrated in the ornate furniture, and diamond encrusted boxes of the French Court. Rulers hoarded these items in part so that they could parcel them out and strengthen ties with their allies. They surrounded themselves with beauty, but also strategically gifted it to others. The female body is and has been part of this currency of Beauty throughout history. In my work I explore the relationship between the contemporary female body and historical mechanisms of female beauty.