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The Arts Paper july | august 2017

artists next door

Linoleum Block Party

liz antle-o’donnell explores our relationship to nature and each other

hank hoffman


he telephone poles and transmission towers in many of Liz Antle-O’Donnell’s prints represent the technology of connection and communication. But are we connected? Are we communicating? Nestled among forest green, they pose the question: Which world represents our nature? Antle-O’Donnell’s primary motivation in showing her work “is to have a conversation with somebody. It’s a conversation starter,” she said in an interview at her home studio. “’Hey, this is what I was thinking about— what do you think?’” In recent years, some of the conversations she has sought to provoke focus on the tension between the urban and natural worlds and the isolating implications of gated communities. Antle-O’Donnell, who recently showed new work relating to gated communities at the Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville, considers printmaking and collage her primary mediums but has also dabbled in sculpture and installation. With her husband, Ryan O’Donnell, she created two videos for the Kehler Liddell show. In some recent works, she has incorporated found objects, both natural (leaves, tree bark) and manmade (window frames). As a printmaker, Antle-O’Donnell specializes in linoleum block printing. Unlike etchings and engravings, which require acid baths and expensive presses, linoleum block prints can be made in her own studio. “I love the feeling and texture of it. I love to be able to draw and plan it out to a T,” Antle-O’Donnell enthused. It isn’t just the woodcut-like texture of the prints that appeals to her. The carved blocks themselves become almost sculptural. So much so, that Antle-O’Donnell has started to experiment with incorporating them into sculptures after completing her print run. Antle-O’Donnell grew up in New Haven, went to school in New York City and “lived for a minute” in Los Angeles. “I’ve always fancied myself a country person but really,

Liz Antle-O’Donnell. Photo by Tracy Lane.

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Build Your Dream Home, linoleum prints (324), 4” x 4” each (installation detail). Images courtesy of the artist.

I’m more of a city person,” she said. “Maybe it’s a tension within myself,” she added with a chuckle, alluding to the impetus driving her subject matter. She appreciates the formal attraction inherent in the juxtaposition of the geometric, manufactured forms with the organic. “I do see beauty in the power lines. New Haven Harbor—I’ve always thought that’s very beautiful with the big oil tanks,” Antle-O’Donnell said. “That industrial look—I’ve always been drawn to that while others might not think it’s picturesque.” In speaking of her prints featuring telephone poles and power lines, Antle-O’Donnell said, “I’m interested in how these manmade structures are almost more natural in many ways than the trees themselves.” They reflect our nature, a mindset alienated from the natural yet inextricably part of it. “We’re creating a new natural world for ourselves,” she said. One work that explores this theme is Wireless Connection, composed of multiple panels of sycamore bark overlaid with prints of telephone poles and tinted in parts with paint. When living in New Haven, Antle-O’Donnell regularly walked past sycamore trees shedding their bark in mid to late summer. A longtime collector of natural objects, she began filling bags with the shed bark for possible incorporation into her work. “With the natural pieces, the idea is to use found materials to speak to how we’re using the natural landscape,” she said. Wireless Connection germinated from the “baby of a thought”—how to use the sycamore bark as a canvas.

She breaks the bark “into small pieces and try to force it into these little squares. It doesn’t really behave; it always wants to bust out,” Antle-O’Donnell said. In this case, Antle-O’Donnell’s process reflects her theme—a struggle to dominate and subdue nature and nature’s resistance to that process. The completed artwork harmonizes the natural and the manmade. The materials she chose for her gated communities series were also integral to her theme. Rather than use classic art materials, Antle-O’Donnell employed house paint, sponge printing, and rice paper “to further bring up the home aspect.” Popsicle sticks and kitschy porcelain rabbits were among the materials used to create condos. The series originated in a lot of obsessive viewing of the home and garden design channel HGTV in sleepless hours after her son was born. The gated communities being featured on HGTV and advertised on YouTube fascinated Antle-O’Donnell. “It seemed to me analogous to what was happening in the country with border walls, the same thought process,” she said. Isolation and loneliness—despite the ubiquitous technology of communication and connection—is a powerful subtext in her work. In the absence of representations of people in her imagery, telephone poles and homes “become the characters for me,” Antle-O’Donnell said. “With the gated communities, they’re making these communities and walling themselves off. It becomes a community of people all like ‘you,’” Antle-O’Donnell explained. “It feels so lonely to wall yourself off.”

Her work is, in part, a reaction to a world in which we are increasingly absorbed with our devices. She noted that when you go to a party these days, you often see people glued to their phones rather than talking to each other. On New York City streets, “people become objects to get around,” Antle-O’Donnell noted. “As we’re relying on technology, we’re not having these human connections to each other,” she said. This ties into her use of linoleum blocks and natural objects, “to make a tangible piece of artwork where you can really see the artist’s hand in it.” “Through my artwork, I’m looking for hope and how we can find a happy balance,” Antle-O’Donnell said. “How can we maintain our connection to the natural world and take care of the natural world?” n To see more of her work, visit

#instalike #instawow, linoleum print w/watercolor, 24” x 24”.

july | august 2017  •

Profile for Arts Council

The Arts Paper | July/August 2017  

Arts Council The Arts Council of Greater New Haven's monthly magazine of all things art in Greater New Haven.

The Arts Paper | July/August 2017  

Arts Council The Arts Council of Greater New Haven's monthly magazine of all things art in Greater New Haven.