Elizabeth McAlpin is a contemporary mixed media printmaker and painter working with abstract and realistic imagery to transform her values and the experienced world into visual narratives. Born in NYC, she lives and works in NYC. Her work was recently included in group exhibitions: Ink, New Prints, Site Brooklyn Gallery, NY (2020); Solar Impressions Exhibition, Southampton Arts Center, NY (2019); and Fiber as Metaphor, galleryFritz, NM (2019).
Currently, my work focuses on environmental issues ranging from the impact of urban planning, suburban sprawl, waste, and pollution. As someone who finds the natural world filled with intelligence and admires human ingenuity to construct complex systems to support large human populations the two systems are often at odds due to basic differences in principles. My work aims to capture these differences. The modern human system is overcoming the ancient natural one, like an invasive species. As I move about the world, I am often saddened by and anxious about the lack of control and management over the modern human invasion as it propagates across the landscape leaving a trail of non biodegradable trash in its wake.
Specifically, plastic fossils are a body of work aimed to communicate the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality around single use plastic in a linear economy, from cradle (made from fossil fuel) to grave (fossil chards and artifacts). My work aims to bring into sight and to mind the never ending and ever present use of plastic that is discarded as quickly as it enters the hands of the consumer. I create and layer lithographs, etchings, collographs, and stencils on paper to raise awareness to the dominance of plastic in our lives. Some works on paper use subtle color to make the bottles appear imperceptible while others flash with bright colors in order to turn the head and take note.
The 2D work on paper expanded to include 3D sculptural works made of paper mache. I call these 3D objects bottle bots because some are enhanced with technology such as sound while others move robotically. In some cases I crush and twist the empty plastic bottles, cover them with paper mache, and hand paint them. A threesome of these empty twisted shiny bottle bots is called “The Three Graces”. They dance and turn mindlessly to an edited audio clip of the song “garbage” by Pete Seeger. In other cases, I stuff the empty bottles with pieces of single use plastic until filled to the rim, coat them in layers of paper mache, and finally paint various symbols, words, and images around their stiff bodies using just three heraldic colors; gold, black, and red. One, called “Think About It” has a gold background with a repetitive black suburban housing plan and a red spiraling staircase representing the “climb to the top”. At its base, circle black oil rigs digging away at the earth’s crust. The bottle bot sits on a stand with a button that plays a famous audio clip from the 1967 film “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. The clip is from the opening scene when Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman, receives paternal advice from Mr. McGuire to go into plastics because it is big money.
The 3D bottle bots reveal the absurdity in our human constructed system while the 2D works on paper draw the viewer in like eye candy but leave them empty. The 2D and 3D pieces work together to awaken us to see beyond our field of vision to how the linear system creates wealth for some but dependence and carelessness for the masses that is unsustainable and harmful. Like the headless and broken Roman statues preserved in museums tell of a past empire, plastic will be preserved in the land, water, and air to tell of yet another empire.