Birthday Party (as a Ritual)
- Oil and acrylic on canvas
- 36" x 40"
"I use symmetrical poses to symbolize the sacred or divine nature of the action taking place. I always think of yellow as the color of light. Yellow paint is so transparent compared to other pigments, and invites a certain glow into the work."
- Eli Kauffman
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Born in Salt Lake City, Utah; based in Providence, RI
Saturated with luminous color, Eli Kauffman’s oil paintings capture the theatrical and tender experiences of becoming an adult in the contemporary world. Kauffman bases such representations on teenagers in coming-of-age television dramas and films—ranging from My So-Called Life and High Fidelity to Moesha and Skins—that the artist consumed while growing up in Utah. These canvases ruminate on the discrepancy between melodramatic scenes in popular culture and the artist’s own relationships with friends and family.
Kauffman employs symmetry, mirroring, and other compositional strategies that European painters harnessed in medieval altarpieces and religious frescoes. For example, in Giotto’s Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ) (c. 1305), the backs of anonymous bodies create the illusion that the viewer could be one of those depicted in the scene. Kauffman associates this artful tactic with 21st-century social media content that positions the audience as active participants in the imagery. Kauffman also renders figures almost life-size so that they mimic the viewer’s own build and loom large on each canvas. This approach deifies the portrayed people as if they are in epic moments of transcendence. Yet the characters appear in ordinary intimate settings such as bedrooms, car interiors, kitchens, and public parks. Holding cell phones, birthday candles, steering wheels, vodka bottles, and other props, these individuals engage with one another like actors on a stage. The emotional intensity of each painting, however, does not seem performative. There is an authenticity to the feelings expressed here—evoking the psychologically challenging passage to adulthood in earnest.