Seeing and Dreaming – Elisabeth Sunday

It began with a vivid dream in 1983.  Or, possibly it began with the painting



by her grandfather , Paul B. Travis, (1891-1975) of “Mangbetu Women,” 1931 and his elongated rendition of their forms.  Perhaps it was the painting that evoked the dream.  Who knows for sure?  One thing is for certain, the dream of elongated figures inhabiting a living, breathing landscape transformed Elisabeth Sunday’s work.  Her first thought upon awakening was to find a way to capture that dream state in her images.

Since then, traveling the globe, Sunday has photographed indigenous peoples from Indonesia to Africa.  Her quest has been, not so much to chronicle their everyday lives, but rather to chronicle their spirit.  With a



daunting array of equipment – large-format cameras, real film and mirrors – she tries to focus the camera lens on the very essence of their souls.  So, rather than photographing subjects directly, she positions and manipulates her mirror, photographing their reflections instead.  The resulting images range from mildly elongated to compositionally abstract.  The mirrors make visible a certain quality of the human spirit.  They are quiet, dream-state photographs.

Her current series was taken over the last 5 years in Mali, the Africa VI Portfolio: Tuareg, 2005-2009.  The Tuareg are a diverse group of people who have played an historically important role in trans-Saharan trade.  To protect themselves from the desert elements, they often dress from head to toe in flowing garments.  With robes blowing in the wind and bodies framed against the dunes, Sunday positions her mirrors and works her magic.  The result is images with titles like Balance, Resilency and my favorite, Shelter.



Sunday’s work is currently on display in San Francisco at Gallery 291, where she has a solo show.  The gallery has generously agreed to donate 10% of all proceeds from the sale of works from the Taureg series to Kah Monno, a non-profit founded by Elisabeth Sunday and her daughter, Sahara Spain.  Kah Monno helps build and support schools in Africa – and, in this case, specifically for the Taureg community.

There will be an Artist’s Reception & Talk on Thursday, May 21st.


Artist and Collector – A Spark of Recognition

by Priscilla Otani

Eighteen years ago Erika Mériaux decided to make oil paintings to fill the white walls of her apartment in Lille, France. She was pregnant at the time, her husband was away on military service and she had no money to decorate her home. She sold paintings to supplement her husband’s military pay and had gallery representation in Lille. Her first sale was to a friend, who bought a piece called Sleeping Beauty. She recalls, “He wasn’t rich and not the kind of person to waste money or time to compliment others. (That purchase) is why I felt I had to continue.”

IoMériaux moved to the Bay Area in 1999 and rented a studio at Art Explosion. In 2008, she moved to her current location at Bryant Street Studios at 5th and Bryant.  She paints there five days a week. She displays her work at Home Escape in Carmel where her portraits of dark-eyed heroic and mythical women sell well. In some ways she prefers showing her work this way than through a gallery, where the financial imperative to move art quickly makes it difficult for an artist to establish a presence. Her only regret is that she unable to build a direct contact with her collectors. 

 At her studio Mériaux says she never likes to pressure people into buying. “I‘m happy when people love my art,” she says. She encourages the collector to go for what he likes, not necessarily something trendy. “Some people are afraid of human representation, especially nudes. “Don’t give in to peer pressure, or what’s good art or bad art. Go with how you feel.”


 Shannon Simon first saw Mériaux paintings at City Art and visited her website. She was strongly attracted to “Love Story,” a piece with a man and woman painted on gold-leafed sliding panels that moved the pair closer or farther apart. She purchased the piece, based solely on the website image. She remembers how pleasant the experience was – Mériaux offered an installment payment option and delivered and hung the piece for her. Even before “Love Story” was assembled, Simon knew she had made the right choice in art and artist.

 Simon started buying art in her 20’s and has been collecting for more than 10 years. She keeps a journal of her art collection – date of purchase, artist’s name, title, price, medium and a photo of the piece. It is a useful reHera_and_the_cuckoo-1ference to track the growth in value of her collection. She also keeps a list of artists she would like to start collecting, such as Fain Hancock, Mark Popple and Michael Osborne. She views works by new artists by attending First Thursdays and SFMOMA’s Artists Gallery Sale. She brings her friends to expose them to the joy of collecting. Simon advises artists not to assume that just because a visitor is young, she wouldn’t be able to afford their work. “Don’t count out the young audience buyers,” she says.

 Collecting art – it all begins with making a connection, recognizing that spark. It can happen anywhere where art is displayed – Open Studios, First Thursdays, galleries, fundraisers, auctions, home furnishing stores, cafes, bars and restaurants. Go with an open mind – you will be pleasantly surprised by what you fall in love with. And once that piece of art speaks to you, talk to the artist or gallery manager. The more you learn about the piece, how it was made, why the artist decided to make it, the more ledameaningful it will be. Sometimes you will be satisfied to own just one piece from an artist. Or you may find yourself nurturing a relationship with someone and building a collection of work that will give you and the artist a lifetime of mutual satisfaction. As one collector put it, “Buying art has enriched my life. Fall in love with something and find a way to get it.” From the artist’s perspective, Mériaux sums it up by saying, “When people love my art enough to spend money on it, it gives me confidence to continue with what I do.” 

(This excerpt is from an article by Priscilla Otani and is reprinted with permission by Ms. Otani, Ms. Mériaux, and ArtSpan.  The original. longer article covering Bay Area artists Chris Leib, Erika Mériaux and Pete Villaseñor appeared in the San Francisco 2007 Open Studios Guide)