Avant-garde of Consciousness

In her highly contemplative fine art practice, Elisabeth Sula finds frequent inspiration in her studies in philosophy, with series that indirectly question ways of seeing and of understanding the connection between the self and society. Her paintings merge elements of metaphysical inquiry with spiritual exploration, drawn in part from her many years spent in India. Where earlier works were layered with Asian-inspired ornamental motifs, in Avant-garde of Consciousness, these graphic elements have been replaced by broad messages of self-affirmation. Collectively, these works form a chorus of pulsing color and declarative determination, a promise of the nourishment and uplift that come with the quest for self-knowledge.

Sula’s latest series began as a response to what she perceived as one-dimensional, fear-driven narratives about the Coronavirus pandemic being promoted by a number of influential sources.

This work could not have come during a more fraught moment, characterized by a divisive political reckoning over longstanding inequalities and a public health crisis threatened by rampant individualism—all set against the backdrop of a global refugee crisis, famine and environmental destruction at an unprecedented scale.
Sula’s work offers a vision for the future that uplifts the individual but prioritizes a collective approach to self-examination and the actions that follow from it. If fear manifests as a type of unconsciousness, her work then is a call to consciousness that prioritizes conscientiousness, an open appeal that begins with the prescriptiveness of written text only to melt into a wash of abstract, interpretive color.


Elizabeth Breiner February 2021
Art critic, London



Avant-garde of Consciousness

In her highly contemplative fine art practice, Elisabeth Sula derives frequent inspiration from her studies in philosophy, with series that indirectly question ways of seeing and of understanding the connection between the self and society. Her paintings merge elements of metaphysical inquiry with spiritual exploration, drawn in part from her many years spent in India. Where earlier works were layered with Eastern-inspired ornamental motifs, in Avant-garde of Consciousness, these graphic elements have been replaced by broad messages of self-affirmation. Collectively, these works form a chorus of pulsing color and declarative determination, a promise of the nourishment and uplift that come with the quest for self-knowledge.

Sula’s latest series began as a response to what she perceived as one-dimensional, fear-inducing narratives about the Coronavirus pandemic being promoted by a number of influential sources. Seeking to complicate and expand the scope of such narratives, she urges a reframing of the virus as a symptom of our growing alienation not only from the earth, whose resources we continue to plunder heedlessly, but from ourselves and from one another, as preoccupations with national and racial superiority increasingly threaten our sense of common humanity. Through her layered works, she aims to combat collective feelings of helplessness and fear with a message of empowerment and self-actualization that extends far beyond this particular moment in time. Moving away from the virus itself as the dominant narrative, Sula looks to the wider history of challenges to humanity’s status quo, and considers what we can do to protect ourselves against such threats both physically and psychologically, as agents, not victims.

The overarching theme of Avant-garde of Consciousness, reinforced by the text imprinted on each canvas, is choice—specifically, the choice to embrace an attitude of acceptance over fear, to look inward rather than outward for the fundamental inspiration that drives our thoughts and actions. Of the eight paintings that compose the series, each detailing a different call to psychic action—I choose gratitude, dignity, abundance, happiness, courage, awareness, kindness—perhaps the most crucial is I choose trust. Only by choosing to trust in ourselves, our intuition and our instincts, Sula suggests, can we find the courage to take risks, learn and grow, reach out to others, heal wounds, and ultimately find peace. Through trust, we are able to strive for the dignity we deserve, to reject those who would diminish and degrade us while simultaneously mobilizing a deeper respect for the dignity of others; here, Sula considers modern movements for women’s rights and racial equality currently taking place around these terms.

Through trust, we deny anger and resentment a place in our hearts and are able to choose kindness; we perceive our abundance, and for that abundance, we summon
gratitude, from which happiness springs. Through trust, we reach a higher state of self-awareness, a presentness and oneness that transcends our individuality. All of these “choices” are interconnected, consistent with Sula’s holistic worldview, which is at once a universal and distinctly feminist one that associates femininity with intuition, warmth, and a nonjudgmental approach to the totality of human experience. Socrates believed that those who practice philosophy in the right way are, in a sense, “in training for dying” and so “fear death least of all men.” For Sula, the ultimate renunciation of fear comes with the acceptance of our own mortality; only by embracing the finite nature of our own journey can we summon the courage to live with the intensity and openness that will beget a heightened self-knowledge and capacity for real growth.

This work could not have come during a more fraught moment, characterized by a divisive political reckoning over longstanding massive inequalities, hunger crisis and a public health crisis threatened by rampant individualism—all set against the backdrop of a global refugee crisis and environmental destruction at an unprecedented scale. Sula’s work offers a vision for the future that uplifts the individual but prioritizes a collective approach to self-examination and the actions that follow from it. If fear manifests as a type of unconsciousness, her work then is a call to consciousness that prioritizes conscientiousness, an open appeal that begins with the prescriptiveness of written text only to melt into a wash of abstract, interpretive color.

Elizabeth Breiner  February 2021
Art critic, London

Avant-garde of Consciousness

‘Be a friend to yourself, love yourself, trust yourself’—
so declares the opening work in this expansive new presentation of Avant-garde of Consciousness from Austrian artist Elisabeth Sula. Trust in oneself as an active life choice is a predominant theme in Sula’s work, an idea that reverberates through her paintings, which expand and reflect upon this mantra in a variety of literal and figurative ways. If the concept seems deceptively simple, it is pleasantly complicated by works like the luminous abstraction in another room that reads ‘Do not believe everything you think, enjoy life.’ So are we not to trust in ourselves, after all?

Trust, Sula suggests, particularly as a means to self-awareness, is ongoing act of conscious labor.
With her latest works, she proposes the need for a kind of deconditioning of the modern mind, a shedding of old skins and perceived limitations. In the series Rising, dense linear strokes give the works a vibrating energy, and evoke the feeling of looking out a window through slatted blinds onto a vibrant world pulsing with possibility. The series title alludes to the limits to our perception of reality imposed by old wounds and traumas, and the need to rise up and let go of the fears and frameworks that stifle our capacity for growth and change.
Her I Choose… series speaks to a similar rejection of fear and prioritization of self-knowledge, with each work detailing a different call to psychic action.

With her consciously subversive placement of the ‘I choose dignity’ work from that series—in the chapel, precisely in the place where the cross would typically be hung—Sula also addresses another layer of conditioning to contend with: the diminishment of the feminine within the largely patriarchal world religions that have governed our society for centuries. The blood-red background of the painting is a nod to women’s role as life-givers, but equally the shame and degradation to which they have historically been subjected. On either side of this altar to womanhood is a selection of sculptural works from the series The Feminine is our Healing Force; their supple curves suggest a certain feminine quality, yet they also bring to mind a more fundamental sort of life form—a single-cell organism, linking the notion of feminine dignity back to the very origins of life on earth. Equally, they might be read as a set of ancient runes or symbols, whose legibility depends upon tapping into a deeply primal state of being.

With artworks in the exhibition ranging from the utterly abstract to the highly figurative, seen all together they begin to take shape along a single continuum, where at one end hyper-realistic painted photographs of flowers give way to organic forms in a dynamic dance of growth and regeneration, which in turn give way to emotive swaths of pure color and texture. The sense of formal and aesthetic balance within these works stands in direct opposition to the imbalance that Sula suggests is a result of the suppression of feminine qualities in women and men alike, key among which are empathy and compassion. Sula’s riotous use of color, drawn from Eastern, particularly Indian color palettes, becomes a symbol of the richly saturated world that lies beyond the limits of our present vision—the natural order that has always been underlying but subdued. Meanwhile, text weaves in and out of the displayed works, the phrases less commands than koans, invitations to join the artist on this journey of at once personal and societal reckoning, out of which a new avant-garde of consciousness just might arise.

Elizabeth Breiner
Art Critic, June 2021

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