- Second Floor Temporary-Permanent Gallery
This exhibition of over 40 years of painting and drawing by Chicago artist Eleanor Spiess-Ferris traces the development of her distinctive figures across her career and compares studies and sketches with final works. Spiess-Ferris’s figures are narrative bodies, telling stories of personal, spiritual and environmental crises.
Eleanor Spiess-Ferris (b. 1941, Las Vegas, NM. Reside, Chicago IL) is known for her characteristic approach to the figure, almost always women, who perform in dramatic settings. Her women are divas; larger than life, central to the story, and, like all good heroines, beset by adversaries and circumstance. Spiess-Ferris's work is unique in Chicago art history in her attention to the narrative body. Their art historical roots dig deep into Mannerist and Baroque arts attenuation of form and emotional atmosphere, Symbolist and Surrealist approaches to the fantastic, unreal situation and Feminist thought in the conflation of personal and political realities of women through history.
The exhibition includes studies and large-scale life studies. Spiess-Ferris has been drawing from a live model since the beginning of her career; an essential practice for her experimentation with the narrative figure. Her life studies often transform into their mythic selves in the process of a drawing session, shifting from observation into invention through distorting proportions and imposing natural forms as essential elements of the body.
Curated by Doug Stapleton, Associate Curator of Art, Illinois State Museum.
Note about the title: Daphne’s Sister. Daphne is an ancient Greek nymph who is transformed into a tree to save her from the god Apollo’s unwanted advances. That moment of Daphne’s transformation from a woman into a tree has appeared throughout art history. Eleanor Spiess-Ferris’s figures often are depicted as hybrid creature part human and part natural form. Trees and birds especially become attributes of the human figure in her work, an acknowledgement of the reciprocal relationship we have to the natural world as a place of both solace and struggle.