ELSNER, Gretchen

Author Tags: Illustration

Gretchen Elsner's limited edition, unduplicated, hand-made books, with typed text, include The Banana Slug Story and With A Lasting Will.

According to her website, clothing designer and pop-up book author Elsner is "an American artist and designer currently living and working on a small island on the western coast of Canada. She is a performing artist in presentation of her book works, and has traveled widely across North America giving theatrical readings and giving her audiences encounters with the universes with in her clothing, costumes and book arts. She has served as the fashion director of The Ayden Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Vancouver, and a researcher at Simon Fraser University working in the development of electronically active textiles and "soft-wear" able arts and garments. Her ready to wear recycled clothing pieces are each distinct and unique, signified by her hand knitted labels. Our clothing is an intimate language, and the clothing work is meant to engender enjoyment of the perfection of the nakedness of the body inside. We need one another, our bodies and our minds do, but there is also a part of ourselves that needs solitude, and our arts in many cases allow us to interact with our sensual, ephemeral selves so personally as to show us the way into such alone-ness as we cannot find when we are isolated. To be arrested before a painting, to be naked inside ones clothes, to have the neck relax and disappear into the darkness of the theater or the printed word with so many others all around, ahead and behind, to touch the something, or to feel the bass notes through the floor or walls, to be lead on a journey or an encounter, to surrender and teach or be taught; these experiences are the richest foods of our highest intimate selves, engendered through our arts. Sometimes these experiences live on nothing but air, but sometimes live with a fiercer passion for the quiet that appreciation and creation of our arts instill in us as we see and experience through the mind's eye of our fellows, and as we are beside ourselves in our own inspiration, in our own ways, moments in time: mind at large, roaming, free." [See www.egretion.com]

[BCBW 2007] "Illustration"

A Positive Attitude
Personal Essay (1998)

As the winner of a Gold Medal for Playwriting in 1998 in a Scholastic Publishing contest for her one-act play "Clever Edward," Gretchen Elsner was invited to write about herself and her work. Her 'statement of practice' follows:


In beginning to compose my thoughts here I am reminded vividly of sitting on the banks of a stream at three years old and watching water in rapture; of trying to draw it, or sculpt it, to some how show through me the endless flow.

First and foremost I respect myself as a medium and tool, in my efforts with the materials and forces that I work with. We tend to pick up a tool and use it for just what we need, not necessarily what some other mind intended for it. By bringing all part of myself into activity, beyond the paradox of capability, I am always learning to enjoy by being constantly adaptable, imaginative, intuitive, and fluidly skillful.

I find this especially in my work as a clothing and costume designer and storyteller. Clothing is one of our most intimate languages, full of memory and living personality. As I design, draft patterns, and create garments, costumes, quilts, dolls, puppets, and whole environments with textiles I encounter again and again an ineffable and yet tactile experience I believe we all share in, the affects of the invisible manifesting in our world as art. I revel in the mechanical engineering of my pop-up books, the way shapes, forms and energies interact beside them selves. When I step away of myself to perform in costume with my book works it is a time when I can show others the evidence of things not seen, the investigation of relationships of causes and effects, and the paying of attention to details.

As a researcher in wearable technologies and conductive textiles I am fascinated with the awesome force of electricity, in the ways that it is mathematically described. The way that electricity behaves bespeaks all the other forces we know and endeavor to understand. It has taken time and effort for me to cotton onto the fact that the language of the sciences is being spoken all the time, it is very real, precise, applicable, and passionate, I just didn't know it! As I expand my understanding of the sciences my experience of the arts becomes ever so much more empowering and fulfilling.

As a self-taught, self-employed artist I have learned to labor and discipline myself, to be resourceful, and to thrive on self sufficiency. But in turn I have felt how ponderous and one-sided the learning of the self-taught can be, and that when joining with others in practice all efforts take on a much more cheerful lightness. I am grateful to my clients, colleagues, students, teachers, audiences, collaborators, friends and my family. I am inspired as I learn the power of praise, how to exhort others in their work, and to find a creative ways to work together.

The expressions of our cultures are imperative in all our lives, and I regret that there is doubt in society at large of this fact, and I regret that I have doubted my own importance as a creative producer. Out of such regrets I have come to believe there is innate knowing we need to survive, just as a bird must know to fly to the seasonal lands; and for people some of this information we store outside of ourselves in the forms of our art works, writings, and artifacts. The self propulsion required to be an artist must be feed such enduring, powerful and innate food as the truth to, "Believe in yourself! Trust your instincts, and enjoy!" A positive attitude is imperative for the satisfaction of a creative life.