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  Interview w/E.K. Buckley  
  By Leah Petrusiak, published in citylink newspaper  
  January 5th - January 10th, 2002  

visit E.K. Buckley's homepageThe square slatted wooden table was flecked with paint, tucked in the dead end of a sterile hallway of the Flat Iron Building on the third floor. Had it been big enough for the both of us, I’m sure she wouldn’t have thought of getting chairs. Even with one of the legs slanting inward, threatening to buckle.

I had followed her through the hallways as she bounded around the corners, always a couple eager steps ahead. Fiery hair streaked with blond flashing against the white walls.

In the studio, Bach pattered in the background, bouncing off canvases such as “Famine” and “Pestilence,” two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

She had taken piano when she was little. Always wanting to play songs in minor chords. She liked to read about the Occult, and stories about witches, “because they’re all hidden from you,” she said.

And she always wanted to be a painter.

But Elizabeth Buckley, who grew up in Park Ridge, IL, didn’t come from a family of artists. The idea that Beth was considering a career as a painter didn’t necessarily appeal to her father, an anti-terrorism FBI agent and devoted Jesuit, who wanted her to choose a “more lucrative” career.

By the time she was in college, she decided to major in English Literature (having studied Latin and the classics growing up), as well as Painting at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She fell just short of her art degree, and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English.

Elizabeth’s literature base is mixed with the turpentine of the spiraling colored oils of many of her paintings. Her studio showcases paintings of images from Dante’s The Inferno. For Bar Thirteen on Division, she painted the building’s west-side mural, inspired by Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Her painting, “The Fall,” reminiscent of Steven Dedalus from Ulysses, by one of her favorite authors, James Joyce.

She has tackled some biblical imagery as well. Interpretations vastly different from any scene you may see displayed in one of the Stations of the Cross, such as “The Gospel According to Paul” (bottom left). “Paul wasn’t too nice to the ladyfolk,” she explains, with a slight grin.

She is also working on a series called The Accident, a sequence of 18 paintings chronicling her brother’s fatal motorcycle accident three years ago.

Her painting featured on the front page, “Phone Call from China,” was inspired in part by her travels in Asia. She began the piece after a friend called her in the U.S. from a suburb outside of Hong Kong. The characters are symbolic of the Maoisms she saw on her travels such as “Having one child - good!” she said.

As for the decrepit, writhing figure depicted in the painting: “It’s about Chinese culture - you always feel like someone’s yelling at you.”

This connection with a darker aesthetic is parallel to the work of one of her favorite painters, Ivan Albright, known for his works of macabre realism. And she loves David Lynch.

Concerning her style and subject matter: “People are constantly telling me, ‘Just paint something pretty,’” she says.

But the most important thing about painting for Elizabeth is painting in the subconscious. “I want [a painting] to be a visual touchstone within my subconscious that might be connected somewhat to humanity - somehow connecting me there - and jar people just a little bit.”

But being able to paint in the subconscious, at least for her, she says, takes a lot of skill and discipline.

“The less you think about the technical, the better you perform,” she said. “You’re not hindered by, ‘Oh sh--, I just mixed two wet surfaces and now that line is gone.”

Skill and technique are not the only challenges that Elizabeth faces as a painter - she is a painter. By profession. She waits tables to pay the expenses of everyday life; she sells her work when she can, and she is currently working to form an artists’ collective. Having worked for a time as a production assistant, she has been dabbling in some independent film production, such as “Manifesto!” directed by Karl Gustave.

And while some of her colleagues are painting subjects that have a “nicer” aesthetic, Elizabeth doesn’ plan on heeding the advice to alter her style or themes - even if that would mean more money. “It’s always tempting to just throw in the towel, especially around Christmas when people are giving and getting these elaborate gifts.”

For Christmas, Elizabeth usually gets oil paints and brushes. Blank canvases. This year, her sisters gave her heavy-duty hand cream for her knuckles that crack open from the turpentine she uses to mix paints.

Sitting in a metal fold-up chair with one leg pulled up to her chest, one hand on the rude table, she says, “Money would be nice,” and cocks her head and shrugs. “Painting is better.”

I met Beth while we were waiting tables at Piece, and she became our first featured painter in the weekly artist profile. She has since left the restaurant, as well as her Flat Iron Studio, moving on to other ventures, but still painting. She has succeeded in establishing the artists’ collective mentioned in the article, coined the Chicago Artists’ Collective, complete with a Web site ( and openings. More of her work, past and present, is viewable on this site.

The two new featured paintings, Omphalos Meets Crow and In Memory of Things Past, were completed around the same time and directly influenced by Crow, a collection of poems by Ted Hughes, and Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, about the historical grammar of poetic myth.

View E.K. Buckley's work online

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