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Copyright (c) 2010, The Virginia-Pilot. Reprinted with permission.
The original article appeared in Port Folio Weekly December 7-14 issue, 1997.
From Stark To Lively, Photographer Captures Life
By Catherine Dorsey
Over the past 20 years, the work of photographer George Elsasser has made the progression from stark black and white photos to painterly Polaroids to brilliantly colored and dreamlike abstractions. Each stage holds it’s own fascination: Elsasser’s multi-faceted talent is evident in a retrospective on view at the Hermitage Foundation Museum in Norfolk.
The earliest photos in black and white demonstrate the beginnings of Elsasser’s exploration of contrast and form over content, a journey which culminates in the artist’s most recent images called the Colorfield series. The 1980 image Window isolates one section of a steamed-over glass pane. A few water droplets course through the intricate pattern made by the steam, leaving their snail-trail on the heavily beaded surface. The patterns in the corner of a stainless steel kitchen sink become the subject for Sink. The interesting curves and reflections of the slick steel, spangled with a textural coating of shimmering water droplets, are focal points while the object becomes secondary.
Elsasser’s images become more complex as they progress chronologically. Objects arranged in odd and unexpected settings create a surreal atmosphere. The trompe l’ oeil effect achieved in the 1992 image No Fish is uncanny. A pot holder shaped like a fish, at first startling in it’s lifelike appearance, rests in the seat of a molded deck chair. The simple composition sets a complex chain of thoughts in motion by altering our perceptions of reality. While the photograph is a color image, the delicately tinted fish provides the only color against the stark white plastic chair. The viewer tends to first perceive the photo as black and white, which it is not, and the fish as real, which it is not.
Three black and white portraits from the early 90’s are quite natural and have a frank quality that is refreshing. A series of spontaneous manipulated Polaroids retain the surrealism found in several of Elsasser’s larger images. In Apple, a bright red apple is blurred into wavy lines while it’s reflection in a stainless steel toaster remains crisp and clear.
Intense color and thoughtful composition are hallmarks of Elsasser’s new large-scale Colorfield photographs, which utilize focus rather than light as tools to shape the image to his mind’s eye. A few sharply focused details emerge from the blurred and often incomprehensible organic subject matter. The eye struggles to discern individual objects in these brilliant tapestries of color. Two withered stalks of grass and a pine cone stand in stark contrast to the soft green and brown wash of blurred greenery in Colorfield-56. The viewer becomes a voyeur in Colorfield-72. A stockade-like row of slender tree trunks are in focus in the foreground, while the sunlit landscape beyond flirtatiously eludes the eye. The golden vista tantalizes by remaining forever just out of reach.
Catherine Dorsey was in the art gallery business for 12 years. She is a native of Norfolk and has a degree in Art History from University of Richmond.
The Colorfield Series is now called Particle Pool.
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Information on Particle Pool