Elisa Crossing on the art of slow looking

In the 1656 portrait painting Las Meninas, Spanish artist Diego Velázquez depicts daily life in the court of King Philip IV of Spain. Breaking free from traditional portrait formats featuring centrally placed sitters, in Las Meninas Velázquez displays multiple portraits within the overall image. His subjects are seen throughout the scene—on the floor, in framed portraits on the wall, and in mirror reflections. Like an old school seek and find challenge, it takes time to find all those included.

Citing Las Meninas as a key influence on her new work, artist Elisa Crossing paints images within images to encourage heightened viewer engagement. “I’ve situated all the paintings within the studio context, where I’m always seeing paintings stacked up, cropping each other and creating visual fragments,” Crossing explains. “Over time I began to wonder what their collective narrative could be.”

Elisa Crossing, The Painter’s shelf, 2017, oil on canvas. 140 x 110cm.

Within each of Crossing’s paintings are multiple visual references to additional works —other paintings, prints and drawings—depicted either hanging on a wall or stacked against it. To present a unified whole, each painting is focused on a certain hue, style or subject matter, and the composition flows inwards to allow space for the eye to rest. “I thought a lot about how the wall and the paintings work together. The paintings are not set up as still life compositions, I did start that way initially, but they evolved to become more of an amalgamation of observation, imagination and memory.”

Also informed by the Slow Art Days held by galleries like London’s Tate Gallery, where patrons are encouraged to give more time to viewing select artworks, Crossing believes looking is not a passive experience but rather an active exchange between observation and discovery. “For me, it’s important we connect with how we look at things in the world and I believe painting allows us to do that on a really deep level.”

Slow looking
Elisa Crossing
Nancy Sever Gallery
17 September—8 October

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Briony Downes