September 2020  Vol. 1, No.5

The Mysterious Metaphysical Art of Elisa Pritzker

Shaman Circle #3 [2016]

Hand painted on wood, acrylic paints, twigs

12” x 10”

Sometimes in life we are confronted with energies bigger than we are. Then, we enter the realm beyond our conscious understanding. Mankind has grappled with this phenomena since the beginning of time. Volumes have been written by thinkers and seekers to attempt to know the unknowable, to contemplate what and why. Poets, musicians and visual artists often say that the creative ideas seemingly just come and flow through them. In human artistry, a certain kind of inexplicable magic can happen. When it does, the spontaneous creative process sparks dynamically. The artist isn’t thinking or analyzing why. They channel it intrinsically.

Pritzker portrait by Frank Matheis

Shaman Circle #11 [2016-2017]

Hand painted on wood, acrylic paints, twigs, shells

10” x 10”

Elisa Pritzker is an American artist born in Argentina, living in the Hudson Valley of New York. Originally from a creative family in Buenos Aires, her childhood was filled with art and music. At the early age of eight, she started her visual arts education in children’s courses at the Argentine School of Visual Art, where she found her calling that led to a lifelong passion. She recollected simply, “I felt free.” Later, she earned a degree from the School of Ceramics and a Masters from the same School of Visual Arts where she stared as a child. She later taught at both schools. After five years in Spain, living and working in Mallorca and Barcelona, she eventually moved to the US to marry and continue her passion for art.

Now, after 27 years in New York, her work has transmuted from designs that explored the relationship of nature to humanity, to a new spiritual quest. Her current style connects her to the nearly extinct* nomadic Selk’nam tribe, indigenous people of what is now Argentina and Chile. They were brutally slaughtered in the late 19th Century by white settlers. European colonialism carries a harsh history of genocide, but even by the barbaric standards of the era, the mass murder of the Selk’nam was particularly cruel, as they were literally hunted like animals with a bounty on their heads. The tribe of 3,000-4,000 was savagely slaughtered and reduced to only about a hundred survivors, victims of land grabs by white farmers and gold prospectors.

Hudson Valley MOCA, Selk’nam: Spirit, Ceremony, Selves Installation View [2017]

Hand painted canvas silhouettes, hand-painted stones, human-made and natural elements, texts, short film, PowerPoint

27” x 420" approx.

Shoort and Ulen Shamans [2017]

Acrylic paint on 13oz. primed cotton canvas, stones

62" high x 27" width each approx.

Hudson Valley MOCA, Selk’nam: Spirit, Ceremony, Selves Partial Installation View [2017]

Hand painted canvas silhouettes, hand-painted stones, text

270” x 136" approx.

Circle of Power [2016-2017]

Bull-skull, hand-painted stones, varied human-made and natural elements

62" diameter

In 2005, Pritzker traveled through Patagonia with her husband and five other friends, way down near the southernmost tip of South America to Ushuaia, Argentina, a remote outpost nicknamed the "End of the World." Ushuaia is a tourism base for exploring Tierra del Fuego, the embarkation port for Antarctic and Malvinas Islands cruises, and port of call for South America cruises between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso around Cape Horn. Tired of being around so many people, Pritzker wanted to get away for a solitary walk in the mountains. She recalled, “The land had a surprise for me. A rush of a strong, hot wind hit me in the face. I felt like the land was calling me. I returned back to the group and told my husband that I was startled by the hot wind. He replied, baffled, that there was no wind at all, and it certainly would not be hot. I felt a magical touch, somewhat astounded as if I was hit by a spirit, but I did not know by whom and why. As I returned home, I started to research about the aboriginal inhabitants of that place, and learned about the horrible demise of the Selk’nam people.” 
 

Selk’nam Magic Stone with Elements [2016]

Hand-painted stone, acrylic paints, bone, thread

8” x 8” x 6"

Selk’nam Small Stone [2016]

Hand painted stone, acrylic paints, wood base, objects

3” x 2” x 2.5"

As the artist was grappling with the extermination of the nomadic, native people who lived like the earliest humans, she developed a fascination with the murdered nomadic tribe. They hunted with bows and arrows and had no written language, nor artistic expression other than their own body paint, used for rituals and animist, shamanic spiritual traditions. They owned only what they could pack and move, lived in tipis, and their only known objects were utilitarian buckets and carrying bags. Prizker was captivated by their body paints, comprised of dots and lines, similar as seen in Australian, American and African aboriginal art. They used only four colors found in their own natural environment, deriving black from coal; white from sea shells, red and yellow from the soil. Pritzker’s current work carries on these color schemes.

Selk’nam Stones, group [2016]

Stones, acrylic paints, twig, resin

12” x 15” x 4” inches approx. each

Selk’nam Relic [2018]

Wood, acrylic paint, wool

20” x 6.75” x 1”

She followed that mysterious calling, feeling like she was touched by the Selk’nam, and she was now driven to pay homage, to be inspired by the essence of their being and to connect with their lost souls. “It all just flowed out. I felt like they were coming into my studio. I was surprised, yet connected to them with an inexplicable subconscious spiritual energy. I felt their spirits working through me. They inspired me to think bigger.”

Tiny Seeds of Magic Love [2018]

Seeds, acrylic paints

3.5" x 1.25" approx. each

Magic Fishes [2019]

Wood, acrylic paints

5” x 2” approx. each

Studio’s corner

Hand painted stone, hand painted wood, pedestal with icons, acrylic paints, stick

Varied size

Ritual Masks and Sticks

Canvas, acrylic paints, thread, sticks

Varied size

She knew then that her art was going to change. Now, she creates art as a form of devotion to the spirits of the lost people, decorating rocks, wood and other natural objects with design patterns reminiscent of the extinct tribe, preserving their memories, essentially channeling the Selk’nam through her own artistic expression. “They had no art work per se. I represent them, and was inspired by them, but I did not copy them. All patterns and designs are my own. I developed the icons.” Anyone who will attempt to charge her with cultural appropriation will be rebuked by the few modern-day survivors of the tribe who stated, “Of all the artists who are “inspired” by the Selk’nam, you are the one that best deconstructs the sacred symbols achieving something totally new, but that still refers you to our culture….”

“I am humbled and surprised how many people like this body of work. They connect to it and are touched by it. It goes deeper. It’s the visual language of the human experience.”

ABClatino Installation, Ancestral Dialogues partial view [2020]

Triad and Tiny Magic Stones on wooden shelf Wood, stones from Oaxaca/Pacific Ocean, acrylic paints

Triad: 15" high x 30" width x 2" deep | Tiny Magic Stones: 3.5" approx. each

Pritzker’s work is ethereal, carrying the most ancient primordial tradition of human visual expressions, simple yet powerful. Her pieces are alive with movement, there is a tension between patterns and shapes, evoking a mystical, primeval feeling. People connect to it because of its basic humanity. Her metaphysical bond to the annihilated aboriginals has produced new cultural artifacts, each of which sings homage to the souls of the now-not-forgotten.

* There is a current effort by surviving tribal members to reinstate their small tribe to land rights and to rebuild their communities, and to recover their language and culture.

ABClatino Installation, Ancestral Dialogues partial view [2020]

Tiny Magic Stones Stones from Oaxaca/Pacific Ocean, acrylic paints, wooden bases

3.5" approx. each

Magic Bird of Peace and Hope [2020]

Canvas, acrylic paints, varied objects

16” x 18.25”

Selk’nam Moon [2015]

Hand painted on found wood, acrylic paints

13.5” x 6 x 2.25"

Frank Matheis
Writer. Photographer. Producer.


Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.