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Meet Elaine Wendt of Agathisms in Boulder

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elaine Wendt.

Elaine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
If it were up to me, I would only paint. Being creative is something that I wish every person on this planet could have the luxury of experiencing. I have been fortunate enough to have been doing it from a very young age and for much of my life. I studied art briefly when I got into college but very quickly realized that there were certain sacrifices required of me, which I was not prepared to give. I look back on this time fondly and still find the knowledge I gained from this time to be valuable for me even today; particularly the art history courses that I took.

I eventually found a place within the world of environmental research. There were too many issues plaguing the world around me which did not allow me to fulfill my life as only an artist. The same way that I feel a massive call to create and to share my creations with others, I feel compelled to bring something helpful to the world which gave me so much. I graduated with a degree in environmental science; within this degree, I spent a lot of time studying geographic information systems (GIS). It is a strikingly similar way to use my creativity to express information through decisions about color and shapes. GIS is essentially map-making. I became particularly interested in a particular type of GIS technology called remote sensing. Remote sensing essentially uses data that is obtained remotely (think digital imagery from an aircraft/satellite). Analysts work to find patterns within the data (image) to uncover information which cannot be seen by the human eye. Different areas of the electromagnetic spectrum contain highly valuable information, for instance, about the health of plants, which reflect the majority of their energy in the infrared, not visible to us. We can highlight this type of ‘invisible information’ and use it to better understand the changes taking place in the world around us. And perhaps the most fundamental idea in GIS is the concept that we use visual symbols to represent very complex ideas. As an artist, this was a process which was fascinating to me.

After graduating, I was able to spend a bit more time in my studio. The resulting pieces which I have created since having graduated, I believe demonstrate many of the ideas that one encounters in the world of cartography and GIS. In my mind, the colors and shapes in my paintings are not simply random brush strokes of my conscious decision-making, but rather represent data in a map-like form of, let’s say, a dream or a memory that exists in the mind beyond my conscious mind.

I found the word ‘agathism’ while looking for a name for my work. It plays off of ideas of optimism and pessimism but goes a bit further. While optimism holds that things are ‘good,’ agathism suggests that all things tend towards an ultimate good. I believe that this idea can offer to reason for things like hate and fear and violence in our lives. That there might be a transformation within us if we experience fear or hate that brings us to a higher understanding. I like to think of my paintings as residual proof of these transformations, like little agathisms…

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The new connection that I felt I had made between my scientific work and my artwork was very exciting, but there was a painful moment each time I painted when I was cleaning my brushes and washed this toxic goop down the drain. I noticed how many times I was putting things into my trashcan and how much plastic I was using in order to maintain my art practice. I felt like a hypocrite. So, I started to consider different ways that I could reduce my waste production. I started to build my own stretcher bars and stretch my own canvases. I systematically used different water jars to wash my brushes and only poured out the water on the top, so that the paint layer could dry out and I could throw it away instead of pouring it down my drain. I have found a way to use much less paint and fewer resources when I paint. It is by no means completely zero-waste, but I hope that I can reach a point which is simple and accessible enough for others to begin realizing in their own artistic endeavors as well.

We’d love to hear more about your artwork.
There is an enormous part of this world which we do not experience with our conscious minds and our senses. Philosophy and religion allow us to explore parts of the metaphysical world, beyond our senses, and science allows us to explore the element of the physical world, using our senses. Art provides a window into another thing… another part of the extravagant world which lies just beyond our understanding. I don’t think that there is necessarily anything about my approach which is different or special, but mostly that I have been fortunate enough to spend time exploring these ideas. It is my hope that my paintings contribute to a process of curiosity and inspiration for others to begin exploring these places of their minds and this world as well. I have often heard people say that a five-year-old could have done what I have done with my paintings, and this might be true; I am always reminded of a quote I heard once that Picasso said it took him a few years to learn how to paint like the masters, but a lifetime to paint like a child. It is somewhere between this childlike approach and metaphysical pursuit which I like to think that my paintings play.

What was you like growing up?
I was always into a lot of different things. I was a gymnast, I played the piano and did ballet, I played in my school’s music group when I was in elementary school; I think this had a big effect on me. I still make music now and still maintain what is probably too many hobbies. But I think it helps me to understand myself and the world.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Elaine Wendt, Michael Ash Smith

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