On Our Radar
Who: Minneapolis-born artist Ellen Lesperance.
Her work is included in the collections of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Art and Design, the Portland Art Museum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kadist Art Foundation.
What she’s known for: Paintings, sculptures and textiles that pay tribute to direct action campaigns and feminist activism.
Ellen Lesperance’s 2014 show at Adams and Ollman, titled You & I Are Earth, explored “the form and practice of protest and public space with a series of paintings that touch on ecoactivism surrounding pressing environmental concerns such as global warming, fracking and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The works skillfully conflate the political with the poetic to merge ideology and individualism.”
What’s being said about her: About Ellen Lesperance’s show at Adams and Ollman gallery in Portland, Oregon, Art in America writer Sue Taylor notes that “each painting represents a sweater worn by a female protester the artist spotted in the news.”
Despite wishful arguments for art as an agent of change, art-making itself can never be confused with real activism, where personal liberty, livelihoods, bodies, even lives are laid on the line. Ellen Lesperance copes with the cognitive dissonance common to politicized artists disconnected from direct action. With quietly beautiful paintings, ceramics, dyed silks and knitted garments, she honors the courage of those standing up against injustice or environmental destruction.
Image: Ellen Lesperance, Not the Nightmare, Not the Scream, Just the Loving Human Dream—of Peace, the Ever-flowing Stream, Bring the Message Home, 2013, gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper, 22 by 29 1/2 inches; at Adams and Ollman. Photo courtesy of Art in America.