Flood of Consciousness: Eileen Bushnell in the StudioSeptember 25, 2015
Light pours in from the windows of the Etching Studio, glinting off of the copper plates. Sketches of plans and ideas hang pinned to the wall. Test runs of etchings and monoprints are scattered on the counter beneath them, each one featuring more characters and patterns than the last. The images are busy and chaotic, but contain a sort of internal integrity.
“All of my works have stories behind them,” Eileen Bushnell says. “There is a deliberate reason behind each incoherent, unrelated part of a piece. There’s not really a linear kind of logic, but there is an internal logic.”
During her Studio Workspace residency, Eileen transforms her everyday experiences into complex, layered etchings. She combines mundane parts of her daily life, with stories told to her by friends, with things she read in a science textbook, with things she heard on the radio, and so on and so on. Eileen reimagines the world around her as fantastical, colorful scenes.
Eileen starts with a simple idea—a drawing—then she lets it go. With each layer, she thinks of a new direction to take it, a different color that the print needs, a new object to incorporate, a different printmaking technique altogether. Whether it means a piece suddenly needs chine-collé or silkscreen, for Eileen, reworking her ideas as she goes adds freshness to each piece.
Eileen’s art acts as a way to deal with the cacophony of information that inundates our day-to-day life. Important or useless, there isn’t a kind of prioritization to it and it all occurs simultaneously. Eileen imitates this flood in her work, layering multiple scenes and characters and objects, each overlapping and competing for attention on a single page. She makes these scenes completely surreal by staging them in unusual locations, stripping away her characters’ identities and clothing, and adding seemingly unrelated objects in the sky or overlayed on her figures.
Eileen takes pleasure in the aspects of unreality that shape otherwise normal events in her life. To create a piece involving a man and a woman holding on to each other while floating on a tire, she thought of the summer with her husband. She illustrated the figures trying to stay afloat and gaining strength from balancing on each other. The next logical step, Eileen thought, was to somehow incorporate Quantum Entanglement Theory. The outline of the subatomic particles wrap around the figures like rope, constricting and binding the man and woman together. The nucleus of each atom circles the hearts of the figures. These juxtapositions that seem illogical to the viewer make perfect sense to Eileen.
“These boring things around us,” Eileen says, “eventually become important and meaningful through our constant interaction with them.”
The central piece created during her residency is a tribute to her colleague and mentor Keith Howard, a pioneer in the nontoxic printmaking processes that Eileen practices today. Keith passed away a few months ago, shortly after his twin brother passed of the same condition. She illustrates Keith as a falling man, descending towards his brother who calls out to him through a horn below the Earth. She adds a periodic table behind Keith as a symbol for his work with nontoxic materials, then a waterfall to signify time passing and eventual acceptance. These seemingly unrelated elements complete the piece for Eileen; this is what she imagines when she remembers Keith. It’s how she interprets her experience of him, twisting and warping reality to create her vision on the page.
“I don’t create ‘living room art,’” Eileen says. “My work is not comforting or easy to live with.” She creates art for herself, about herself, and sometimes it’s hard to look at. Like her anonymous nude figures, Eileen is laid bare on the page. These layers are borne of her perceptions and experiences, her work a direct response to her environment. Every intimate thought and feeling, good or bad, becomes public.
Eileen’s work is like a personal train of thought, and she invites the viewer to be a part of the ride. The way she thinks, each logical and illogical jump she makes, is present on the page. “When it gets to a certain point,” Eileen says, “you have to let the image talk to you.”
Eileen Bushnell is an artist based in Rochester, NY working with non-toxic printmaking materials and processes. She holds a BFA in Art Education from University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a MFA in Printmaking from Indiana State University. She is an Associate Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology where she incorporates her own practice into her teaching. You can see more of her work at cias.rit.edu/faculty-staff/115#personal-work and see more images of her residency on flickr.