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How to Make Transformative Art: Elaine Luther

Photo of Elaine Luther

Photo: Courtesy of Elaine Luther.

Most people don’t see mint tins, clothing patterns, and calculators as art supplies, but Elaine Luther does. Everyday items are prominent in her sculpture, jewellery, and mixed media collages.

There’s a reason.

Changing perceptions

“I’m usually trying to get people to look at things in a new way, like in the piece The Society of Mothers of Dead Babies,” she says.

Part of her Medals That You Wouldn’t Want to Earn series, it contains a silver casting of a plastic baby shower bauble. “Here, it’s perceived in a completely different way. Just the context changes things, making it precious. I’m making art out of these valueless things, little tiny toys, but then I’m really putting them on a shrine, an alter or a pedestal.”

The Society of Mothers of Dead Babies, by Elaine Luther.

The Society of Mothers of Dead Babies, by Elaine Luther.

When people see items from their own lives presented like that, they’re often surprised and delighted, she says. In her Our Ladies of Perpetual Housework series, for example, she incorporates coffee urns, school supplies, and a toy car, among other things.

“When people see the Our Ladies, there’s this slow dawning of recognition, usually, and some people bust out laughing, especially if they’re  Catholic (which I’m not) and they get the saint thing right away. I like that.”

“People seem to seem to enjoy looking at them closely… They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a Lego, that’s a Playmobil. I have that.'”

The form of a shrine is familiar, Luther says, and helps people understand her work. “It gives them a starting point.”

Objects with stories

Our Lady of Perpetual Coffee, by Elaine Luther.

Our Lady of Perpetual Coffee, by Elaine Luther.

Her art doesn’t just connect her with an audience; it also helps her process difficult emotions, she says. Its therapeutic aspect motivates her.

“For me, the way into an art piece is almost always something emotional,” she adds. Each one has a story.

“The Medals series starts from death and grief and moves on to what I call the ‘hashtag First World Problems,’ the ones of  ‘I just want to be able to buy flowers at the grocery store without worrying about how much they cost.'” It’s petty, she admits, but uplifting: “There’s also this nice thing about ‘Oh, look how much better my life is! Now I can whine about small things,'” like chores in the Our Ladies series.

Creating the Medals series helped her process feelings about losing people she loved, she says, and enabled the move to lighter subjects.

Turning Objects into Art

Falling Balance and Tension, by Elaine Luther.

Falling Balance and Tension, by Elaine Luther.

Change is a recurring theme in Luther’s work. “Not only do the materials show transformation from common and everyday to precious metal,” she says, “but in many cases the art itself is about a transformation, such as the transformation of someone who accepts their new identity as a member of the Society of Mothers of Dead Babies, or the transformation of a soldier from able-bodied to amputee.”

Similarly, the skeleton in the lower part of Our Lady of Perpetual Housework implies a shift from life to death: “Housework doesn’t end until you’re dead,” she jokes.

The theme appears in her Balance and Tension series as well, in the form of apparently impending collapse.

People who want to turn their own objects into art should think about how those objects relate to stories they care about, she advises, adding, “For any art practise, you need to trust yourself and give yourself time and space for observation and looking and reflecting.”

Tweet: Tweet: “For any art practise, you need to trust yourself and give yourself time and space for observation, looking and reflecting.” – Elaine Luther

Featured Image: Our Lady of Perpetual Homework, by Elaine Luther

PS: I’m writing a book about the creative process. Subscribe for free, and when it’s done, I’ll send send you the first chapter.  

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