Elyse Graham’s Geodes

It seems fitting that we were first introduced to Elyse Graham’s Geodes during our Hotel California show at last year’s Noho Design District. After all, there’s something distinctly Californian in the born-and-bred Los Angeles artist’s work. In her Geodes project, for which Graham casts layers of colorful urethane around a balloon mold, there are hints of the desert, psychedelia, yoga, and the wind. If that all sounds a little fuzzy, the objects themselves are not: Sawed open, they reveal incredibly beautiful swirls of color and texture that are the result of a process that’s somehow both carefully calibrated and entirely left to chance. We asked Graham herself to explain how she achieves that effect, and to take us through her entire process.

“I always wanted to be an artist; I just didn’t quite know how. I also make jewelry, and for a while my game plan was that a jewelry business could support my art practice. But I found that starting your own business really takes away from art making! About three or four years ago, though, I realized I could make jewelry and sculpture from the same material: I was doing some experiments with resin, and I found this urethane that I now use for the majority of my work.”

“The Geodes project actually came out of being a young woman living in Los Angeles with no prospect yet for a husband or kids. I wondered, ‘When is this stuff supposed to happen?’ I wanted to find a way to quell my panic and anxiety about the future, so I decided to find a way to stop time. I started with the most basic thing — the breath. I would blow up these balloons and watch them shrink over time. Blowing up balloons and expelling this breath or fear and watching them slowly change over many months kind of gave me a sense of peace. Like, ok, I’m changing, time moves slowly, everything’s going to be ok. After I spent some time making these temporary sculptures, though, I still wanted to see if I could truly capture that breath — if I could save time, find a way to seal it in, make a moment last, do the impossible, really. I started experimenting with materials and I came across this urethane, which is meant for casting. It’s a very quick-setting plastic that’s used for making things quickly, like if you need to see a prototype really fast.”

“I started brushing it on and pouring it eventually, and I found that because it sets so quickly, I’m able make it stick to the latex of the balloons, which usually don’t stick to anything. I was able to work quickly, which is important to me; I’m just as impatient as can be. It’s taken me quite some time to get the hang of it. When you start using a material that’s not supposed to be used that way, typically when you run into problems, people are like, ‘Uh, I don’t know!’ So it’s been a lot of trial and error. But part of what’s exciting to me is that it’s experimental. I’m making something that I have no idea what it’s going to look like in the end. That’s a really important aspect to my practice. There’s a certain moment where I have to just give it over. I can make the shape and then I have to wait and see what the shape becomes.”