Elisabeth Walden (b. 1987) is an artist, printmaker and ceramicist based in Portland, OR. Her work explores her relationship with her fat, female body, as shaped by contemporary American culture and art history using a variety of painting, printmaking, sculptural and experimental mixed-media techniques. Elisabeth has taught printmaking to artists of all ages at the University of New Haven and the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, CT, where she was the Education Coordinator. Her work has been exhibited widely in the US and abroad, including a solo shows at Brown University in 2015 and the Multnomah Arts Center in 2019. She received her BA from Yale University in 2009 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013.
My art originates in my struggle as a queer fat woman to construct an embodied, loving representation of my body in spite of huge social pressure to hate myself because of it. I know that because my body is fat and female, many people will find me disgusting and think that I am ugly, lazy, unhealthy, and unworthy. My art, therefore, is the result of a sustained engagement with my politicized flesh, as a subject, object and tool to make art. The prints, paintings and ceramics I make exist along a continuum between representation and abstraction, between the frank immediacy of the body print and the language of abstract painting, between my adoration of abundant flesh and the world’s abhorrence for it. As a feminist, I am suspicious of revering beauty as I know too well how oppressive the concept can be, particularly for marginalized people. Yet when I look at the marks and objects my body makes, I feel liberated and powerful because I can see not just their beauty, but the inherent value and humanity in the all the different bodies they resemble.
Though much of my previous practice has focused on representing my own fat, female body in drawing, painting and printmaking, I have recently been focused on hand building figurative ceramic planters and vases depicting fat bodies. This practice has enabled me to expand on the issues of identity, representation and beauty that I have grappled with in my previous work beyond the limitation of my own specific bodily experiences. The diversity of body forms found in these sculptures, though often ambiguous or abstracted in their gender and racial representation, come from specific observation of both my own fat body and those of others. The value these planters have as functional and decorative objects, as well as their tenderness and humor, are in tension with our cultural ideas about fat and otherwise marginalized bodies. I hope this work causes the viewer to reconsider their ideas about beauty, and to build their empathy for fat people, though I am satisfied when the response is simply to stop and smell the plants.