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Meet Elizabeth Preston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Preston.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
My grandfather was a successful interior decorator.  The colors and fabrics in his workroom provided a “playroom” of sorts for me as a young girl.  My budding artistic efforts were squelched by humiliating classroom criticism from a junior high art teacher.  With that, I wouldn’t pick up a pencil or paintbrush for the next twenty years.  My life moved on to being a corporate wife, raising children, and enjoying art history and fine art as a spectator.  Then fate stepped in.

I was a housewife and young mother of two in St. Louis and I was unexpectedly afflicted for six weeks with a systemic viral infection.  The illness and prescribed bed rest, with normal activity stopped in its tracks, relying on others to care for my children, caused a deep depression and despair about my life.  In bed, I read of an exhibit coming to the St. Louis Museum of Art.  Memories of my teenage aspirations to draw and paint came to mind.  I decided to visit the museum as soon as I could get strength to walk.  At last, weakly, I joined the long line of museum visitors.  I left pride aside and asked people in line near me to allow me to rest beside the line, catch up, rest again and repeatedly rejoin the line.  They honored my fragile condition and fervent desire to see the exhibit.  Finally, I entered the main exhibit area.  I’d never seen an original van Gogh, although I’d seen more than a few reproductions in books and I knew of his troubled life.  Then it happened: looking up in front of me, there it was!  Pink peach blossoms in his Souvenir de Mauve clinging to the twisty gray tree branches, myriad shades of pink and pale coral against blues of many values – breathtaking!  His palette brought memories of the lovely chintzes and fabrics of my childhood in grandfather’s shop.

I began experimenting with a variety of media, then happened to move to an area where some of the top watercolorists in the country lived.  They became my inspiration and teachers.  Being a corporate wife afforded me multiple moves and many fine teachers, finally bringing me to Southern California.  My marriage eventually failed, my children grew up, married and moved away, and many life challenges were met, but art has always provided me with balance, inspiration, and a reason to live.  At middle age I took a Master’s Degree in Theories of Learning and Behavior and studied at the J. Paul Getty Center.  I became a teacher of children and of teachers who would bring art into school classrooms.  I continued to develop my own skills with instruction from various fine artists, including Barbara Nechis, Gerald Brommer, Robert Burridge, Stephen Quiller, Milford Zornes, Fealing Lin, Betty Hook, and Mary Aslin.

I am somewhat unusual as an artist in that I work with whatever medium I find appropriate to the subject, the occasion, and, basically, to my own inclination or inspiration at the moment.  I’m at home with, and enjoy, both representational and abstract styles.  I do have “runs” where I more or less obsess with a particular method or medium over an extended series of works, but I enjoy variety, and I reserve the right to change my approach on a whim.  (In teaching, when a student has not settled on a preferred medium, I use a format I call “Following in the Footsteps of the Masters,” by which I teach sequentially a set of methods and media used by the various masters of fine arts.  I provide exercises in drawing, watercolor, pastel, gouache, and oil, and then add modern mixed media/collage, acrylic, and photography).

After twenty-five years of studies and home-based work, I opened my own studio in Claremont, now in its twenty-third year.  It contains my “Art for Life Gallery” and provides facilities for my own work and for teaching adults and students privately and in small classes.  Art, both teaching and doing, is truly my passion and my life work.  Eventually, as a beneficiary of art therapy following a traumatic automobile injury, I became much more aware of the healing power of artistic creativity and I took training in a form of expressive arts therapy called “Creative Journaling”.   I have facilitated support group workshops using Creative Journaling at a local hospital for fourteen years, to benefit cancer and cardiac patients and care-givers.  A prized possession is a painting one of my workshop clients gave me that simply says” Art Saves Lives.”  Art healed me spiritually and emotionally in St. Louis, and physically in Claremont: I am now blessed to assist others with the healing aspects of artistic expression.

Please tell us about your art.
Inspired by a variety of accomplished artists, it took some time before I discovered my own unique style.  I spent many years refining my skill in representational art.  Then once more fate stepped in; I believe I was divinely inspired.  I developed a process of sculpting abstract forms with gesso on canvas, then layering multiple sequential washes of acrylic colors over the sculpted forms.  The abstracts range in size from 10×10 to 40×60 inches.  They found favor and led me to world travel.  In Australia, I had the great privilege of studying painting with Aboriginals in Alice Springs, and I had an exhibition in Sydney attended by the U.S. Consul and other patrons.  I made a pilgrimage to Monet’s Giverney and later visited the British Isles, Italy, and Dubrovnik, finding inspiration to paint abstracts that sing with multilayered, sculpted color.

I am pleasantly surprised when a friend or former client stops me in town and says, “I saw one of your paintings the other day.”  They recognize my style and on some level are moved to remember it.  I am especially pleased to be exhibiting in venues that are using art for healing in one way or another.  It was my privilege to curate a permanent exhibit that provides “Healing Walls” at a facility for underinsured and underserved patients in the Claremont area.  I have joined and encourage a rotating art exhibit at a local clinic for a program designed to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and benefit those who are suffering.  I have witnessed and firmly believe in the power of art to provide hope, comfort, and dignity to the human soul, qualities that are sorely needed in our troubled world.

As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
To me, artistic success, ultimately, is the acquisition of an ability to inspire others to find their own artistic style and way, their own passion to express themselves and to find healing and personal growth through art in a manner similar to the way my own life was changed by art.  Vincent van Gogh most likely did not aspire to be artistically successful “merely” in that way.  However, in that his work dramatically changed the course of my life and continues to inspire countless others, I suggest he was artistically successful not “merely” by creating timeless artworks (that were mostly ignored during his lifetime, ironically!), but more fundamentally by his unwitting inspirational effect on succeeding generations of artists and non-artists alike.  I had the pleasure of introducing a young man named Johnnie Chatman to the world of fine art in year 2000.  Next month he graduates from The School of Visual Arts in New York with a bright future, including a position at the school.  (Johnnie was featured in Voyage LA in March this year).  Johnnie is already a successful artist in many ways, and I’m happy to think he (and many of my other students as well) is a part of my own success too.  For me, continuing to listen to “the still small voice of God” allows me to care so deeply that I need to continue innovating, experimenting, inspiring (hopefully!), and always doing the work.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Apart from showing in my own gallery and local exhibits as well as an artist’s cooperative gallery, last year a sculpted acrylic abstract I painted while feeling the joy of being newly married, called “Life Bubbles: Conception” was featured in North Light Books’ 2017 “Acrylic Works 4: Captivating Color – a showcase of the best in contemporary acrylic artwork from all over the globe.”  In April 2018, my work appeared in Southwest Art magazine, a long-sought nod to my artistic sensibilities.

People may support my work by contacting me either through my studio, Elizabeth’s Art Studio in Claremont, CA, or through Gallery SoHo in Montclair, CA, or through Creative Minds Gallery at Tri-Cities Mental Health Center in Pomona CA.  My website, elizabethprestonfa.com, also has a contact page.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Robert Preston

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Graciela Horne Nardi

    May 17, 2018 at 17:32

    Excelent article! Congratulations Bitsy.

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