Maier Museum of Art

Randolph-Macon Woman's College

Lynchburg, VA

(804) 947-8136


Fairy Tales: Portrait Paintings by Elena Sisto


Elena Sisto's recent (1998) work is shown in this exhibit of 20 portraits. Sisto's colorful portraits depict well-known types from fairy tales and legends.The childhood heroes Prince Charming, Snow White, and hosts of other royalty as well as villainous giants make appearances in this provocative exhibit. Familiar as these characters may be to us, Sisto's depictions present a deeper psychological exploration than most of the original stories.These paintings do not function as narratives of the stories, but are rather insightful individual portraits that present new interpretations. They play upon our understanding of the traditional roles of fairy tale characters to make us take a new look at these mythical beings and to examine our own preconceptions.

The faces and figures appear solitary against a plain, often brightly colored field. Sisto's handling of paint is vigorous and active. Her bold, painterly brushwork lends a suggestion of activity and movement to the statically posed portraits. Features are exaggerated, a technique that lends a cartoon-like quality to the portraits and emphasizes a strong emotional element. Sisto has said in regard to her work, "You do something for emotional reasons....Then you do something for formal reasons. I'm really trying to keep them in balance so I can discover the image. It just seems a way of keeping honest."'

Elena Sisto earned her B.A. in art and art history from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her graduate studies have been at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. She has been awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1983-1984 and 1989-1990).

Fairy Tales is Sisto's tenth one person show and her second appearance at the Maier. She exhibited at the Maier in 1993 in the group exhibition Making Connections: Approaches to Space in Drawing. Since the early 1980s, Sisto has exhibited nationwide in solo and group exhibitions at a number of private galleries and at such distinguished public institutions as the Greenville County Museum of Art (Greenville, South Carolina), the Weatherspoon Art Gallery (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Krannert Art Museum (University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaigne), The New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), and the Newark Museum (New Jersey).

Sisto also teaches art and has served as a guest lecturer at several notable colleges and universities in the northeast and mid-Atlantic including a 1993 visit as a guest lecturer to Randolph-Macon Woman's College. Kathy Muehlemann, assistant professor of art, observed that "Elena Sisto's teaching is prestigious....We have been fortunate to have had her visit the campus to give master classes in drawing, to critique student work, to serve as a panelist on a symposium of contemporary art, and to give slide lectures of her own work.These are rich and fruitful gifts."

The exhibition catalog will be a departure from the usual format -- the publication will, in fact, be a work of art in itself. The text will be a short story written by acclaimed author Rick Moody. Creator of such novels as Garden State (1992), The Ice Storm (1994), and Purple America (1997) and the recipient of the 1998 Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Moody has written a story entitled "Pan's Fair Throng" in response to Sisto's dynamic images. Muehlemann notes that Moody's free-associative responses to Sisto's work "make a compelling case for the idea of creative exchange between artists. Sisto's work is generous enough to allow another in, and it is evocative enough to sustain a creative call and-response with another's vision."

Fairy Tales: Portrait Paintings by Elena Sisto is made possible by the Sally Oglesby Disharoon Art Gallery Fund, by an endowment established by the Sarah and Pauline Maier Scholarship Foundation, Inc. and by Randolph-Macon Woman's College.

Images by Elena Sisto (b. 1952) from top to bottom: Giant, 1998, oil on Linen, 48 x 43 inches. Photo Julio Grinblatt, New York. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Snow White, 1998, oil on Linen, 24 x 36 inches. Photo Julio Grinblatt, New York. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; King, 1998, oil on Linen, 43 x 56 inches. Photo Julio Grinblatt, New York. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Gossip, 1998, oil on Linen, 32 x 26 inches. Photo Julio Grinblatt, New York. Reproduced courtesy of the artist. All works loaned courtesy of Littlejohn Contemporary, New York.

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