Elif Soyer: Art that Moves the Mind

Untitled, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.

At the opening reception of Elif Soyer’s exhibition, Throughwhich is on view until Sunday, March 27, I discussed the work with one of her fellow member artists. We commented on how the elegant paintings that are inspired by organic matter such as plant roots could as well be the tracks of a person fencing in the snow. This is not so random an association as one may think, because Soyer co-owns Moe Fencing Club in Somerville, MA.

Classic dance step diagram

Her two areas of expertise-art and fencing-can’t help but inform each other. I can’t speak to fencing in detail, but I understand the sport to involve a combination of physical discipline and strategy. Meanwhile, during my recent studio visit with Soyer, it became clear that she was doesn’t so much literally represent her chosen subject as recreate the connections between things, incorporating multiple types of information about the given subject, such as multiple viewpoints, times spent observing it, and characteristics of its nature, into the rendering. Rather than starting fresh, the previous marks accentuate the marks in the foreground, appearing to emerge from layers of white acrylic. Each gesture visually accumulates to achieve the completed work. As the exhibition press release describes, the paintings register experiences of memory, space, and time.

A flat, neutral background is consistent throughout this new series of works on canvas and paper. It brings to mind both diagrams and specimens, and in that way causes me to associate them with sharing ways of thinking and understanding the world, rather than straightforward, optical representations.

A rough schematic of energy shifting planes from an article about synaesthetic motion. See the original context on the website Creative Applications

I brought together a few images to demonstrate what I mean: a vintage diagram of dance steps,  a rough, hand-drawn schematic of energy shifting planes that I found in an article about synaesthetic motion (this article is quite technical, but they mention James Turrell in the third paragraph), and an illustration of an algae specimen by Mary Wyatt. I like the contrast with illustrations of algae particularly, as Soyer focuses on roots, the parts of plants that are typically not visible, but they are essential to their sustenance and growht.

The paintings in Through are not any one of the examples I bring in, but consider them while keeping in mind the concept of motion, specifically the motion of objects shifting in space, and sharing ideas. The series can be seen as interpretations of how thoughts and perceptions change over time, and how the progression toward understanding is as interesting as the mastery of any given subject.

Mary Wyatt, Algae Danmonienses, or Dried Specimens of Marine Plants, found on Zucker Art Books. 

At a time when we all may all guard ourselves against steadily decreasing attention spans, these paintings demonstrate not snapshots of objects, not hints of narratives, or even one specific idea or value, but rather the process of living with things over time. Painting this series, for Soyer, was a way of learning and knowing, with graceful and thought-provoking results.


Elif Soyer is a Turkish-American artist. She received a Diploma in 1995 and a MFA in 1997 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and is the longest-serving member of Kingston Gallery.

She is also a fencing coach and co-owner of Moe Fencing Club in Somerville, MA, where she trains Olympic hopefuls, weekend warriors and some of the top-ranked fencers in the US.

Another work in Through shot at Elif Soyer’s studio in Somerville, MA earlier in 2016. Untitled, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches.



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