Ellen Altfest: Viewing and Reception
Altfest will show a painting called “The Leg,” created on site at Chinati and featuring a local model, Dan Keane.
Ellen Altfest is a New York-based painter who makes small-scale still lifes and portraits. She works directly from a model, whether animate or inanimate, and builds up a painting slowly, over a period of months, using small brushes and oil paint. This time-honored method of working, however, does not result in paintings that look traditional. For one thing, there is the seeming ordinariness of the artist?s subject matter—notably her truncated, unlovely, erratically hirsute men. For another, her meticulous technique and her microscopic attention to texture and detail give the paintings a certain undefinable quality: an air of meditative otherness, almost a sense of quiet hallucination. The longer you look, the more Altfest?s subjects—her “sitters”—start to optically and cognitively swim before your eyes. They merge with the background, disintegrate, lose meaning like a word said aloud over and over?then suddenly reintegrate, snap back into place as a piece of driftwood, a rock, a plant, or a penis. The painter’s realism, based on prolonged scrutiny, based on the facts of sitter and setting, disorients and unsettles what it simultaneously denotes and describes.
Ellen Altfest received an MFA from Yale University in 1997 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2002. She was awarded a studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in 2004-05 and a residency at Yaddo in 2006. Altfest has had two solo exhibitions at Bellwether in New York (2002, 2005) and one at White Cube in London in 2006. A monograph about her work was published by Jay Jopling/White Cube and Bellwether in 2007. Altfest curated the group show Men at I-Beam in New York in 2006.