The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Lilly McElroy, Artist Represented by Thomas Robertello Gallery

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Photograph of Lilly McElroy at her 2009 exhibition “I kicked a dog.” Courtesy of Facebook.
Lilly McElroy: I Throw Myself at Men #12, 2008, inkjet print, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Thomas Robertello Gallery.

Lilly McElroy‘s work, upon a first glance, is one of the most humorous artwork with serious overtones that the viewer is unsure of how to react to. What is insightful about her pieces is that she can explore dark fantasies and controversial subjects without pure shock value. For example, her recent series “I kicked a dog.” could be read on various levels. Is this an example of animal cruelty? What is cartoon violence? What are the ethical boundaries of human behavior? These and other questions have been asked by various people who probably saw McElroy’s deadpan hilarious pieces at the gallery she was showing at.

The range of her work can go from conceptual documentary photography, which comprises her series “I throw myself at men.” to drawings to video work such as her early 2004 piece “The Square–After Roberto Lopardo.” The inherent logic that tie in these encompassing bodies of work is a fascination with human relationships, a concern with finding subverted connections between objects, and a well-crafted tension between highbrow emotional analysis with lowbrow provocative humor that reminds me of Samuel Beckett‘s relationship to popular culture, particularly Buster Keaton in one certain film. A particular regard for her work makes the viewer feel that he or she must look beyond the surface of events and speculate about the pscyhology of this “Lilly” character in the drama of a strange universe. And the artist’s tossing of her own self towards male subjects wa

If you have any questions about Bell’s artwork, feel free to contact Thomas Robertello Gallery at or at (312) 421-1587.

So now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the startling “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Lilly McElroy: There are so many things that I like.  Twin Peaks, Arrested Development and books by Cormac McCarthy are at the top of the list right now. I never finished reading Infinite Jest, but I think about it daily.  The Madame Psychosis character was strange. I also watch 30 Rock religiously and am a big fan of comics like Maria Bamford.  I’m a little out of touch as far as exhibitions and gallery shows are concerned.  I spent the past seven months doing an artist residency in Provincetown, so I haven’t been getting out much.  The last really amazing show I saw was After Nature at the New Museum. Maurizio Cattelan’s piece killed me.  Oh and as far as other artists go, I really like Laurel Nakadate and Taylor Baldwin’s work. His sculptures hit home for me.  Perhaps that is partially due to the fact that we are both from Arizona.

qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Chicago or Washington D.C. will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the Provincetown, Massachusetts area where you are located? Is it difficult to sell conceptual photography to the public, particularly during this slow economy?

Lilly McElroy: I like reading work by writers who love art and are invested in cultural production. Jerry Saltz and Colleen Asper are two of my favorites, but I don’t try to keep up to date with the art world and don’t diligently read many specific arts magazines. I sporadically stumble onto them.   I do, however, read Bitch and regularly.  My art practice is heavily influence by popular culture and I like magazines and blogs that talk about that intelligently.

I would say that the smaller regional markets are just as vital and essential as places like New York City and L.A.  There are interesting artist working everywhere.

Provincetown is an artist colony and vacation town.  I was there doing a winter fellowship with 9 other visual artists and 10 writers at the Fine Arts Work Center, so I would say that the state of contemporary art there is incredible.  During my seven months there I worked with a group of dedicated and talented artist.   I’m not entirely sure what goes on there the rest of the year, but I’ve been told that people have a good time.

It is harder to sell conceptual photography during a recession.  Large prints are expensive and not necessarily decorative.  That is one the many reasons I think that it is important to put art on a website.  People might not be able to own something, but at least they get to look at it.

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption? Any thoughts on the Obama administration in relation to your viewpoint on history, social identity, and the arts scene?

Lilly McElroy: At least once a day, I think about how grateful I am that Obama is our president.  I may not agree with everything that he does, but it is so heartening to have an intelligent and compassionate person trying to get us out of this mess.

I can’t really say whether or not other artists are making more personal projects, but I am hopeful that we will move away from the art fair model and have even more small artist run exhibition spaces.  Those have a tendency to be much more interesting.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around the Provincetown area or Southern Arizona or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Lilly McElroy: If you have that chance check out Tucson during monsoon season.  It is epic.  The bar at Hotel Congress is also good especially in the late afternoon.  It has an excellent jukebox and cheap drinks.

Provincetown, I like during the winter.  Snow covered beaches are beautiful.

I suppose I would say that I like dramatic weather and I like good bars.

qi peng: As a graduate of the University of Arizona and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work? How did you develop your current style of photography that focuses on capturing whimsical humor of performance art where you throw your own body at men?

Lilly McElroy: I had a good time during school, but I was really lucky.  The people I was in graduate school with were dedicated, talented, and a lot of fun.  They were largely responsible for making it worthwhile.  The professors, of course, also helped.  Anne Wilson, Ken Fandell, and David Robbins are the names that immediately come to mind.  Ken helped me shake off a lot of the art angst I had left over from undergrad.  He made fun of me and helped me figure out that good art doesn’t have to be serious.   Now before I start a project the idea has to make me laugh a little bit.    The throwing myself at men series began by accident.  I was video taping myself wrestling with men on the dance floor at Carol’s bar in Chicago. The video wasn’t any good, but luckily I had a picture taken of the moment I pounced on my volunteer.   That picture worked.

Oh and I wouldn’t say studio life has changed all that much for me except my studios are a little bit larger and I can’t pull all nighters any more.   I do really miss being surrounded by people who are working all the time.  Doing residencies helps with that; it keeps you in a community of artists.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? With your personal interests, is your painting reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Lilly McElroy: I’m a pop culture fan.  I spend a lot of time engaging with that.  I’m also a sucker for narrative.  That means I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books.  I would say that my projects do reflect that love of narrative even if a story line isn’t obvious.

qi peng: What is the underlying process from start to finish as you plan each piece from preliminary design to finished product? How do you determine which materials to use for the final version of the artwork? Considering that you consider yourself to be a painter using technology, how does your work fit into the context of new media art and video art?

Lilly McElroy: I have a tendency to stumble around when it comes to figuring out what materials and subjects I’m going to work with. There is a lot of experimentation and it is very haphazard. Often things don’t work out. I’m not necessarily interested in specific materials or methods, so I figure out what medium suits the ideas.

qi peng: You are represented by a commercial space called Thomas Robertello Gallery. What has the experience been like to work with a gallery which you have a solid relationship with? What are the major challenges that you face as an young and cutting-edge artist in the gallery system?

Lilly McElroy: If you are going to work with a gallery it is important to find one that you can have a good relationship with; one you trust and one that isn’t going to try to direct the type of work you make.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for young emerging artists from BFA or MFA programs who are graduating from their program? Any pitfalls for them to avoid as they search for a way to enter the formal gallery system or to exhibit in non-profit or alternative spaces or museums? What have been your joys and hardships in dealing with the non-profit sector? Also what was your experience like at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture?

Lilly McElroy: So many people stop making art after they finish school.  I’d suggest forming a critique group with people whose opinions they respect. I’d also tell them to apply for as many shows and residencies as possible.

Skowhegan was idyllic. Afterwards, I had dreams about it for a long time.  While there, I made some work, met a lot of talented artists, and went swimming every day. It was kind of like camp for artists.  I actually played baseball and capture the flag.

qi peng: Your solo show “I throw myself at men.” at Thomas Robertello Gallery featured you as the artist literally hurling or flinging your own body towards unsuspecting male participants? Where did this serious yet absurdly funny endeavor come from? What sorts of things are you trying to implicate about the nature of violence? You mention about the failure of being caught by the guy as a humorous possibility. What is the underlying humor behind the lack of a gesture? Would the humor be lost if you were to toss yourself at females or animals rather than just males?

Lilly McElroy: I’m interested in how similar loving and aggressive gestures can be.

In Hugs, a video I made in 2004, I videotaped myself walking up to strangers and hugging them.  I didn’t have any restrictions concerning the gender of the individuals I embraced and no humor or meaning was lost.  However if I’d thrown myself at women or golden retrievers for the I throw myself at men series, the meaning of the project would have changed entirely.  It wouldn’t have been about the same type of attempt at gaining connection.

Oh and I wouldn’t say there is a lack of gesture.  Even if the men decide not to catch me, the photographs are all about gesture.

qi peng: Considering that you eschew digital editing of your photographs using Photoshop apart from probably minor edit, what is the process from start to finish for a particular photo shoot in the “I throw myself at men.” series? Do you have to practice the performance act before figuring out which frame just “works?”

Lilly McElroy: The process is straightforward.  I take several pictures, scan the negatives and then figure out what image works the best.  However, I don’t practice jumping. That would feel silly.

qi peng: You allude to your childhood in Southern Arizona as having an impact on the way you execute some of your pieces, particularly those involving papier-mache landscapes and video art. Would you like to explain the cultural influences and references that appear within these bodies of work? You also discuss about combining love and cruelty. How do these antipodes of emotion get combined within the same piece? Does this reflect a tension between humor and moral concern with the impact of a violent act?

Lilly McElroy: Growing up in the Southwest has given me a love for the iconic and the cliché.  There is something really beautiful about actually watching someone ride off into the sunset.

I don’t think love and cruelty are exact opposites but there is definitely a tension between the desire to laugh and the feeling of empathy.  I really like it when people laugh at inappropriate things.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you look for within a daily meal?

Lilly McElroy: I like good coffee.  My favorite meal is Brie, roast beef, and French bread.

qi peng: What are some of your future dreams and upcoming exhibitions that you will be undergoing? What are some potential challenges or past hardships that you have overcome and that you are proud of? Do you have cool things, subjects, or themes that you would love to explore within your forthcoming projects? Any plans to throw yourself at more men?

Lilly McElroy: I’m going to be in a group show at the De Soto Gallery in Los Angeles in July ( and as far as new work is concerned I’ll be making new videos about aggressive actions.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your conceptual photography, videos, projects, and forthcoming shows here?

Lilly McElroy: Here is a longer list of artists’ whose work I like.

Amber Hawk Swanson

Elizabeth Axtman

Molly Schafer

Jenny Kendler

Adam Davies

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

June 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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