"I've been a happy man in a terrible century forced to bear witness to not
only our self-destruction but also the destruction of much of the
biosphere. But I've never lost hope. Where does my optimism come from?
I suppose, like everything else in my life, my childhood..." E.O. Wilson
The artist found her calling in her early forties when she moved from New York City to the rural Southern Tier surrounded by dense woodlands, stone walls, abandoned apple orchards and a diversity of wildlife. After years of living, working and commuting in Brooklyn and Manhattan at various non-profits and corporations, including outpatient mental health centers and the Brooklyn Hospital Center’s NICU, her dream was to move to the country. It was the solitude and quiet that first allowed her to paint (Biophilia) in a small upstairs bedroom of a little farmhouse at the top of a winding, dead-end dirt road. Living in the woods she had found her utopia.
Eleni Smolen is deeply connected to and concerned about the natural world. She ascribes to Edward Wilson’s concept of “biophilia,” the word he coined to describe humankind’s deep affinity for nature. The artist believes nature is, as Wilson describes it, “the refuge of the spirit, remote, static, richer even than imagination.”
Smolen’s current work explores memory as well as the ambiguity of nostalgia. Girl by the Sea and Guardians Series are both inspired by the discovery of a photograph of the artist taken by her mother when the family was in Étretat, France in 1959. Girl by the Sea initially riffs on this one image in dozens of smaller sketches, later developed into “memory flags.” The larger Guardians Series eliminates the peripheral details of the memorialized Étretat photograph and brings the ever-changing girl holding the bird front and center. Working through the losses and grievances inherent in a personal history – especially the sudden loss of a mother – Smolen experiences a cathartic release in the creation of this new body of work.
Smolen presently lives in Beacon with her husband, David, and their dog, Henry. She has a studio in Newburgh, New York at Regal Bag Studios on the waterfront.