Better Know a Freedster: Rita Elsner
While many of you know Rita as the person who eases your aches and pains with deep tissue massage and Thai yoga stretching, you might not know that she is also an artist.
Rita graduated from Shepherd University with a BFA in painting and graphic design, and sought additional natural science and medical illustration training from artists at National Geographic as well the National Institutes of Health. Her career as an artist has spanned the fields of editorial illustration, scenic artistry, and mural painting. In 2004, Rita moved from commercial art to a dual career track of fine art and massage therapy.
Rita is one of 125 DC area artists selected to participate in the 2016 Alchemical Vessels show at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. In addition to its meaningful focus on the intersection of art and healing, the Alchemical Vessels show is unique because it provides all artists with the same medium to construct their final piece, inspiring a vast array of outcomes that reflect a diversity of styles, aesthetics, and visions.
For the past three years, artists were invited to start with a simple clay bowl. In keeping with the tradition of the show to showcase some kind of container, this year all 125 artists have been given a blank wooden cigar box. In the words of the gallery, “the definition of Alchemy is to transform something toxic into an illuminated substance…we asked artists to take a box that would normally be filled with cigars, a polarizing object and carcinogenic vehicle, and from it create something of beauty and meaning. With this empty box, we asked each artist, “What helps you heal?”
In their work, artists were invited to “reflect what you cherish and what you draw upon to get you through challenging times.” In her own words, Rita says:
"All artists in this show were asked to consider three questions, either on their own or in dialogue with another person: 1) What is one of the most difficult things you've ever had to go through? 2) What resources did you draw on to help you through that? 3) How does that experience inform how you live your life today?
Sometimes a project comes your way at the exact time that you need it to. For this piece, I decided to take a deeper look at past experiences with verbal abuse.
The piece that I completed for the Alchemical Vessels show, titled "Hear/Not Here," still feels very new to me. In other words, even with my love for allegorical image making, getting to know this piece is taking some time. Something that tells me I'm on the right path in my creative work is when my subject matter "talks back" to me, and this one has been very chatty. Producing this work has given me the opportunity to sift through past events creatively, and to decide how my story is to be told, which in itself has been very healing.
Early on in the project, I described to Frances my original image concept: a drawing of an ear juxtaposed with a drawing of Meteor Crater. In the conversation that followed, Frances spoke of scars (symbolized by a crater, though referencing our own humanly ones) as something to be proud of. Thinking on this, I decided to not delete the serpentine road leading up to the crater's visitor center, and even over-emphasized it slightly, as I enjoyed the humor of its new relevance.
The pencils attached to the cover were a generous gift from the widower of a celebrated local artist, whose benchmark rendering abilities greatly inspired me ever since I first discovered her mysterious autobiographical drawings and paintings as a student. The pencils act also like a Greek chorus of sorts – a reminder to me of the community of artists that I belong to, whose work reminds me that I’m not alone in my experiences and attempts to exorcise my ghosts."
Check out Rita’s work in person at the show's closing artist reception on Friday, May 6, from 7-9 p.m. (free!). If you want to support the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts and take home a healing wonder, join the opening fundraiser on Friday, April 29th.
To see more of Rita’s work, visit her Flickr page!