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An Interview with Elizabeth Dawn

Angel bunnies, waif-like girls, and abysmal pools of water populate the masterful artworks of Elizabeth Dawn. If you're a fan of Mark Ryden's pastel nightmares, Aya Takano's wispy sci-fi dreamscapes, or the coming-of-age disturbia of films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, you'll find a similar sense of eerie nostalgia in Elizabeth's art. Her oeuvre captures the liminal space between childhood and adulthood-- the pain of picking up an old toy and realizing you are no longer the person that used to love it, the feeling of existential dread that overcomes you as you sit at the bottom of your shower, but also, the joy of looking back at old photos, grateful that you captured them, and walking past familiar places with new eyes and new memories. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." And for those of us at that age, Elizabeth's part-idyllic, part-frightful worlds are indeed a fairy tale.

Who are your inspirations and what lessons have they taught you?

There are a lot of artists who are inspirations to me, but if I had to choose people who’ve influenced me outside of art I’d say the people closest to me. Specifically my dad and my youngest siblings. My dad was one of my biggest inspirations in life and still is. He encouraged me to pursue my interests, specifically in art, and I’m so fortunate and grateful for the support I had in that regard growing up. He also had his own creative goals he pursued when he was alive, and I admire his persistence despite unfortunate circumstances. As for my younger siblings, they love to draw and I think they’re drawings are so honest and wholesome. My youngest brother, William, draws the most. He does it simply because he loves it (with maybe the exception of drawing them for me to display ^ ^). I have so many of his drawings hanging up; they remind me of how I started out as a kid and never fail to make me smile :)

What work are you most proud of?

This is a question I struggle with a lot, as do a lot of artists I'm sure. I tend to find a lot of flaws within my own work. When you spend so much time making something it’s hard to look past perceived flaws or things maybe other people don’t notice. But at the same time spending so much time on something gives you a different relationship with it because you know how the idea first existed, which I think is cool. And despite what I just mentioned, I think I’m really beginning to like the direction I’m moving in. A few of my most recent works, “brain spots” and “life cycle,” are some of my favorites. I feel like I’m getting to the place I want to and my intent is coming through.

What’s been the most transformative experience of your life?

Losing my dad, I think, was the most difficult and transformative for me. There are a lot of things in my life that have impacted me but I think his death created a shift in me that acted like a ripple effect, causing me to change so many things. After he died I decided to transfer and pursue art seriously. I didn’t see the need to put things on hold like I had before. So I did the things I always told myself I’d wait for the “right time” to do. It’s like I was suddenly more aware of my mortality (not to be morbid). On that same note I think his death affected the themes I explore in my work. I use art as a way to navigate grief and my own feelings about death, which I’ve sort of been forced to address.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop trying to put a deadline on everything! You’re not going to achieve your goals when you plan for them, things just don’t happen that way. You need to be okay with “falling behind,” trust me it’s not the end of the world. Focus on being present and doing what you can wherever you are. I know that sounds cliché but I definitely needed to hear it. I still have a tendency to want to map things out. Nothing happens how I plan for it, and I’ve made peace with that (sort of lol).

How do you hope your work changes in the future?

I want to be more honest with myself. I don’t think my work right now is dishonest, I just think I’m still coming into my own and exploring things I previously didn’t feel capable of or brave enough to explore. I think as I continue to foster a better relationship with my process, and not put pressure on myself to create a certain way, I’ll naturally create art that feels more “honest” and reflective of myself.

I notice that rabbits are a recurring motif in your work--especially angel rabbits--and I was wondering if you could talk a bit about why you have an affinity for the animal?

I actually have a pet bunny, Moby, who is my pride and joy <3 I love him dearly <3 The meaning extends beyond my favorite animal, though (not to undermine Moby, he’s still my muse). I actually started drawing the rabbit motif in pictures of mine since Moby doesn’t like to sit still, and it’s since stuck and taken on a life of its own. Now the rabbit motif/rabbit angel, “angel bun,” as I like to call them, is a way for me to illustrate my grief in a way that’s comforting. Usually with time a lot of past occurrences and memories are warped and I start to remember things differently. It’s like moments that were once really painful become something else entirely. The pain is still there but it’s different somehow, bittersweet maybe? I attribute it to a sort of nostalgia. And that’s where angel bun comes in. Death is a heavy subject but at the same time it’s everywhere. Angel bunny is the manifestation of this thought and these two clashing ideas of death being dark and scary and something to fear but also being unavoidable. Angel bun is there for me to try and navigate/reconcile those feelings.

If you were a mythical creature what would you be and why?

Two come to mind. I'd be dishonoring my younger self if I didn’t mention mermaid. Otherwise I’d like to be a unicorn! I have to say mermaid because they’re what got me drawing when I was three or four and I’ve been drawing ever since. Mermaids are my “origin story” in a way so I feel like I have to mention them lol. Unicorn because I really love/relate to/could talk endlessly about the movie the Last Unicorn and because it’s one my dad showed me as a kid :)

How do you hope people feel when they look at your work?

I hope my intent for each piece comes through. Maybe people who’ve lost somebody can feel understood or comforted. Like I said, I use art sometimes as means of coping or reassuring myself of things I’m otherwise unsure of. Sometimes it’s a bit daunting when other people explain they feel exactly how I felt making a painting just by looking at it, but it makes me glad that my feelings are coming through, and I hope those feelings resonate. Grief is experienced and navigated differently by each person, but it is a shared experience nonetheless.


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