Paintings Come to Life
Words by Jessica Devenyns Photos by Ashley Haguewood
In a small, whitewashed auto garage, the glare of fluorescent lights creates an unusually flattering background for dozens of canvases propped haphazardly along the walls. Rabbits pose languidly alongside smiling foxes, and narwhals float along six feet of canvas, their horns glittering with metallic applications. A pile of fused glass waits patiently to be applied to a series of half-finished birch trees that occupy the majority of the floor space.
Amid all the color sits the artist, Eli Halpin, in a magenta velvet, wing-backed chair. “I’m just on top of myself in here, and things are in piles,” she sighs as she sets her water glass on an unpainted portion of canvas. Halpin, however, explains that arriving at a juncture where her works in progress double as coasters was a very gradual “brick by brick” process.
For 15 years, Halpin has painted full-time, often packing up and moving in intervals. It is only now as she approaches her 40th birthday that the catalyst of time has begun to make its presence felt. “Everything has just become more pressing. Now is the time to do things, there is no more ‘someday,'” she explains. In light of her newfound carpe diem mindset, Halpin has leased a ground floor space at Springdale General. Twice the size of her current workshop, she will create a gallery space where people can come see her original paintings while leaving herself room to work. The space will be expansive with tall storefront windows and called The Eli Halpin Gallery & Art Studio.
After all, for Halpin, painting is her lifeblood. “I just kind of do the same thing all the time – I paint and paint and paint,” she says to describe her method as an artist. Rarely, however, does she paint figures. Mostly, Halpin’s canvases are filled with animals depicted in a rainbow of brushstrokes that celebrates nature’s inherent dichotomy between beauty and savagery.
Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, Halpin was surrounded by the majesty of untamed nature, and she learned to live by its rules. “I’ve killed a lot of salmon with my parents with a knife and club because that’s what had to be done,” she remembers. Although this proximity to nature can appear primal, it is through this unedited approach to life that the young creative was able to ply nature into an artistic subject. “I’ve looked at them up close with their beautiful scales and their eyeballs, and they’re really amazing. Salmon are beautiful,” she adds as she gestures to a likeness of the fish.
Nevertheless, even in a more urban setting, there is always something inspiring. Whether it’s goats by the side of the road or a pot of paint, the colorful pallet that makes up life is Halpin’s constant font of ideas. In fact, she says that the art supplies she uses can be just as inspiring as the subject itself. “It’s almost like the more colors I give it, the better,” she smiles. The results of her fascination with pigments are images that are as noteworthy for their stained waves of texture and playful use of objects as they are for their color.
However, she does admit that creativity is not always sunshine and rainbows as her paintings would suggest. “I need to learn how to take it down a notch because I’ve burnt out a few times in my life.” As a result, her newest fixation is taking care of herself. To do so, she has chosen to let her creativity flow freely by expanding her workspace and stopping commissions. No longer does she “paint her heart out” as she describes her early works, but now, Halpin merely paints with her heart.
Gallery Opening: Come January, Eli Halpin will be moving into the 10-acre, affordable maker studio complex, Springdale General, where her ground floor studio will double as gallery space. With floor to ceiling windows to bring ample natural light and plenty of parking, the new studio is ideally situated at the heart of East Austin’s growing art scene and primed to help Halpin accomplish her dream of opening her studio to the public.