This is a new series of interviews with an artist interviewing another artist. Here is Nicole Alger interviewing Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern.
Decadence features prominently in all genres of your work especially in the form of jewelry. #BaroqueTechStyle, a hashtag from your 2014 solo show of portraits, illustrates your work perfectly. Would you agree?
Yes, the pieces in #BaroqueTechStyle describe my body of work very well. I am extremely inspired by art of that time period, with its use of ornate detail and theatrical effects. I observe humanity playing itself out all around me, the little and big drama of life, so often through the contemporary phenomenon of virtual experience and contact through man-made devices. I think my years in high-end couture design and presentation heightened my awareness of objects, and how they can be used to describe personality traits and behaviors. I love painting people and their idiosyncratic accessories. And the clever, double-reading of the exhibition title reinforced the descriptive spirit of the artworks.
Your background in textiles is evident. Do you see that continuing?
The textiles, whether they are used as flat patterns or adornments to the figure, are a recurring theme, and sometimes the motifs in the repeating patterns conceptually support the other images contained in the work. I love the structure and added layer of decoration the textile elements can impart to the composition.
The description of the group show ‘Fabulous’ in which your #selfportraitwithtrappings was included, says its theme of ‘ questioning the intersection of traditional feminist identities with pop-culture and privilege’ also strongly resonates with your other paintings of women, in particular. Please share more about this element of your work.
I suppose some would call me a ‘traditional’ person because I’m from a generation raised without the benefit of vast education in modern technology. I have been trying, to varying degrees of success, to wrap my head around living in this world with access to anything I want to see or learn about, but only if I can afford and understand how to use the technology to find it. This challenge is portrayed through the figures in my paintings. I paint both men and women, but the autobiographical force behind the work does seem to manifest itself more through female representations.
How much does humor drive your content?
Humor drives my content as much as something driving me crazy! For example – the portrait Nouveau Richelieu came as a direct result of my inability to get my husband’s attention when he became involved with his new iPad. I think there comes a point where you have to just accept and have a chuckle. And a picture is worth a thousand words.
Why did you choose to pay homage to Van Eyck and Vigée Le Brun in particular?
Another recurrent theme of my work is the intersection of older, familiar images with the more contemporary. For me, this helps describe the condition of constantly assimilating new with old or existing material or situations. My recent portraits contain faces from the art-historical canon, but updated with more current clothing, accessories, and motifs. I chose to pay homage to these iconic works because of the timeless qualities of their expressions and facial features.
Self-Portrait with Bubbles is very different from your other self-portraits. What is this one about?
This self-portrait developed from my research into art of the 17th and 18th centuries, where the activity of blowing bubbles was depicted in many paintings. Self-Portrait with Bubbles is a ‘vanitas’ painting – the bubbles are an ephemeral substance. The activity is playful, the bubbles shiny and buoyant, but they are fragile and last only seconds. The fleeting nature of my youth and career was the central idea behind the painting.
Why are you drawn to paint jewels in the form of the natural world, whether it be flowers, bugs or animals? What do they represent to you?
I have an equal interest in still life as well as portraiture. The jewel still life paintings first came about when I was mourning the loss of my mother-in-law, Martha. She was an art historian and avid collector of many objects. At the time of her death, she owned every piece of the Joan Rivers QVC Jewelry Collection. She bequeathed the collection to me, and it has provided an endless source of inspiration for my paintings. The brooches, in particular, have functioned as ‘virtual’ still life material for my many tributes to art-historical paintings about natural objects. And the whole back story of this jewelry collection is itself a compelling example of the ‘vanitas’ theme, aside from its natural tie to my background in fashion design.
If you could choose the ideal responses to your work, what would they be?
My desired primary response would be visual pleasure and excitement, which goes back to your initial comment about the decadent nature of the work. I want the viewer to be captivated and keep looking. I try to have multiple layers of content or narrative, so the element of discovery becomes a thought provoking, and hopefully another interesting and rewarding aspect of the viewer experience.
Nicole Alger’s work was recently included in the juried show at 33 Contemporary Gallery in Chicago, entitled POV: Self Portraits from Another Point of View. Previously, she was invited to include work in the drawing show at Dacia Gallery in New York City, Dec. 2015. Her work was in the recent American Women Artists juried show and awarded Meritorious for the Richeson75 Still Life and Floral competition. Alger is a member of The Copley Society of Art in Boston where she is a part of their Portrait registry. Her work will be in their next juried show of landscapes, opening October 1, at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. Her solo show of Still lifes and Landscapes will be held at the Norfolk Library of Ct., opening Nov. 6. www.nicolealger.com