The work usually begins with a color idea or shape idea.
I go back and forth between emphasizing the geometry and color; and I vary the scale from small works on paper to large paintings.
The shapes I use are found in the things I see in the world from everyday life or in the studio. The shapes are used as is or they are transformed into their essential geometric elements. Minute changes in color, area, edge or orientation can enhance or destroy the emotive response.
Without intending to do so, over time, I create systems in color and shape and line.
The ground is equally important. Many subtle arrangements are investigated in the ground, active lines or subtle layers of colors.
One color may be seen or appear in my mind and grow to an association of 2 or up to 6. I rarely use a large palette within one piece. I minimize the color palette instinctively to reduce variables, produce harmony and eliminate discordance. I may explore a broad range of colors and then reduce it to those I am most invested in.
I am always thinking about the range of color properties: complimentary or analogous color, value, saturation, color harmony or color anomaly.
I am always thinking about what is making a color alive: its size, flatness, relation to its edges, how the eye is prepared to see it by seeing other colors in the piece.
I am always thinking about what is making a piece alive: are the shapes dynamic, are the negative spaces active, is the composition generating energy, does the eye move around the piece?
If a piece feels too symmetrical, I will shift the shapes around until it feels less programmatic.
Lines are at the core. Within a collage, drawing, painting or print, lines remain important elements throughout every piece. A line is created as I cut the paper’s edge. I draw lines with the tape that I use, lines form the edge of an area, I draw with pencil, and I draw with ink.
One painting often suggests the next as needing to address unresolved ideas or questions.
I have accumulated found paper, color aid paper, grid paper, sand paper, and other painted papers. It is a collected diary of forms akin to the writer’s book of accumulated quotations, sentence fragments and ideas.
If I could live inside of a book, it would be Ellsworth Kelly’s tablet. Elizabeth Gourlay, 2019
Elizabeth Gourlay explores the dynamic interplay between color and form in abstract paintings that have extraordinary power. The bold geometry, such as the mesmerizing repetition of a horizontal grid, may draw you in, but the small details, the suggestions of inadvertent imperfections, demand your attention. Gourlay brings an exacting rigor to the process of revealing subtle undercurrents of visual dissonance, and these surprising notes—an accent of deep red against a backdrop of moody gray, or a jagged edge of cerulean blue—elevate her work beyond simple beauty into something far more complex.
There is a distinctive contrast between what at first glance appears to be Gourlay’s straightforward, if gorgeous, paintings and the emotional charge that her deliberate constructions of line and color create. And that’s exactly the point. Past masters of minimalism, from Anni Albers to Piet Mondrian to Agnes Martin—all of whom Gourlay cites as important influences—focused on reducing artistic elements to their essential form. Gourlay’s work demonstrates, as theirs did, that an elusive narrative isn’t any less evocative. In fact, the freedom to interpret the meaning behind any work of art allows for the most intimate of connections.
Caroline Cunningham, Elizabeth Gourlay: Transcendent Moments, NE Home Magazine, 2016
For Gourlay the painterly sound is rhythmic. She mutes her colors of melody to emphasize the syncopation of her forms. In her large square canvases, often named after instruments, she uses collage to layer horizontal strips of paper that have been tinted along their edges, then adds additional squares of paint like regular punctuations. In other examples she stacks her square blocks of color. In others she plucks an edge into a triangle. The overall results are quiet and harmonic, like an ensemble of world music in otherworldly form, here arranged in sublime surroundings.
James Panero, The New Criterion, November, 2015
Perhaps, today, the question of existence that puzzles us most is not "What is reality?" The more difficult and pressing questions are "What is nature?" and "Where is the actual union of self and nature observed?" Modern artistic culture often expresses our perceptual experience of multiple relationships between things and events. Could there be a more basic uniqueness of place, from which perceptual thinking subsequently extracts understandings about events and relative locations?
With her new paintings, Elizabeth Gourlay takes us further on this path that explores the intimacy of direct contact with nature. One may recall her earlier grid-like studies of squares and colors, where lively innovation flourishes amid the imposition of geometric repetition. Her new paintings bring each of us to consider more deeply the uniqueness of contact with the immediacy of space.
These paintings come to us by way of vivid dreaming, stimulated by a stroll with the stones and stucco of Spoleto. The liveliness of the stroll is suggested in the crannies and crevices of "betweeness" within the paintings. It is the areas between the structural forms of black and gray that affirm uniqueness of place. Moreover, the compositions display the place of observable color as a site for the reversibility and relativity of perceptual experience. For example, the trapezoid of broken line 9 creates a texture of color that becomes, in succession, plane, object and tangible void. Elizabeth Gourlay gives affirmation and joyful expression to the uniqueness of our present lives in nature. Her work is an exciting barometer of our cultural growth.
For over 20 years, Elizabeth Gourlay has developed a practice that, at its heart, is concerned with exploring and developing the possibilities of color and form. Employing a wide range of color palettes from nearly monochromatic to highly polychromatic, her work consistently and rigorously examines ways to broaden the scale of color interaction and expression. Using pure abstraction to articulate her vision, Gourlay’s art is a process of progressively and meditatively layering elements of line and form according to the natural unfolding of an inner vision (dreaming).
Elizabeth Gourlay’s visual language is one that demonstrates mastery of the simplest forms of mark making. Employing characteristic grids, lines and geometric shapes, Gourlay’s work is frequently noted for its musicality and architectonic undertones. Repetitions of shape, color and line create harmonies and dissonances that energize surfaces and carry the eye with their rhythms. At times spirited and snappy, and other times quiet and contemplative, Gourlay’s work consistently invites elevated sensitivities to the visual world.