Ellen Kozak

By March 18, 2020November 9th, 2020Featured Artists


Artist and Climate Change Blog: My Hudson River Primer

Painting Perceptions Blog: Interview with Ellen Kozak

As a painter also working with video, my practice brings together concepts and crafts from both media. My studio in Greene County sits directly on the Hudson River’s western shoreline. The River is a constant presence. While my paintings and video appear abstract, I work empirically, painting on my field easel on site, from close observation of the natural and visual phenomena along the riverbanks. My video work likewise originates alongside bodies of water where I use the water’s own reflective surface as a giant aquatic lens. My subject thus becomes a means for observation while simultaneously disappearing, like the surface of a mirror, into itself. In graduate school at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, I used one of Nam June Paik’s wacky video synthesizers. It used oscillators to generate waveforms. I now find myself observing actual waveforms in rivers and using them as a different kind of synthesizer; one that fuses surface patterns and disturbance with reflections of the sky above; the movement of clouds, fog, foliage, birds in flight; and on the Hudson, the mesmerizing movement of barges transporting crude oil, toxic debris, and contaminated dredging spoils.

My practice fosters a dynamic dialog between painting and video that influences the sensibility of both paint and electronic image. In recent years I have noticed an inverse relationship between my paintings and video. In the former I collapse hours of observation into the still surface of a painting, while in the latter, I use still imagery to refer to time and imply constant motion. Subverting expected characteristics of each medium creates unexpected paradoxical disjunction.

It is likely that the Hudson River will be at the doorstep of my studio within the next couple of decades. This studio will not outlast the rising River. In the last twenty years I have seen the water level rise at a rate and to a height that is at least twice the metrics reported. Working beside the water motivated my active involvement with Riverkeeper, a not-for-profit environmental organization. Because the river cannot speak for itself it needs our advocacy and earnest stewardship.