Every painting is a lesson for Elliot Twelvetrees

The local artist's solo exhibition of abstract expressionist paintings is on view now at the Vanderelli Room in Franklinton

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"The Edge of Summer, 2" by Elliot Twelvetrees

For most of her life, Elliot Twelvetrees viewed her artistry through the lens of her grandfather, a onetime bull fighter who played flamenco music and moved to Mexico to join an artist colony. But in the last year or so, Twelvetrees has slowly realized her artistic inclinations likely originated from an even closer source: her mother. 

“I've been in interiors my whole life, and my mom, she was that way,” said Twelvetrees, who previously made her living as a decorative painter (while also working as a musician). “We moved our whole life every few years. She had five kids, and yet, the first thing that happens once you get everything in, is you decorate everything and make everything nice. … It was the expression that a home should be lovely.” 

Several years ago, after decades spent making Short North restaurants and other Columbus spaces more lovely through her decorative artwork, Twelvetrees began focusing more on her own abstract paintings, following her artistic muse while also testing the waters to see if she could sell enough work to make it a full-time endeavor.

"The Heart of Gold and the Hungry Ghosts" by Elliot Twelvetrees

Eventually, Twelvetrees connected with a gallery in Miami, Florida, but just before her first exhibition there, the pandemic lockdown took hold, canceling her debut and all other art-related events for the foreseeable future, which sent her reeling. “First, there was the freak-out: I've been self-employed my whole life. What in the world am I going to do? I couldn't get any compensation. … I had to try to keep my studio and pay basic bills,” she said. “That spurred me to learn. I just went to YouTube school and learned how to do my website, Photoshop — any and all tools and skills to do it myself.” 

Over time, Twelvetrees began selling paintings via social media, her website, the Miami gallery and Muse Art Services (formerly Muse Gallery, a local venture of Caren Petersen, who recently closed Not Sheep Gallery in the Short North). The Vanderelli Room included one of her pieces in a group show, and now the Franklinton gallery is hosting Twelvetrees’ solo exhibition, which the artist will celebrate with a reception at the Vanderelli Room on Friday, March 11, at 7 p.m. 

The large, abstract expressionist paintings in this recent body of work range from brightly colored pieces that exude playfulness and hope to more serious, moody paintings, though those emotional takeaways are often in the eye of the beholder. “Some people think of blacks and whites as negative or dark, and I don't think of it that way. I just like neutrals,” Twelvetrees said.  

Twelvetrees made all the work in the last two years, and some within the past month. The titles provide hints at the artist’s state of mind at the time, which sometimes corresponded with the stages of the pandemic. “I'm not saying I was depressed the whole time, but it's the wrangling. Everyone had to wrangle with what this meant for work, family, life, fear, health care,” she said.

"Quiet Pines" by Elliot Twelvetrees

The vibrant colors of “Winter Leaning into Spring” and “The Edge of Summer, 2” evoke sunny days. “I just needed to paint some color after channeling all of that angst,” she said. “I needed to see color and feel the exuberance.” 

Other works with titles such as “Quiet Pines” and “Quiet Pond” lean more contemplative while also paying homage to “Japanese and Chinese traditions of mark-making and brush work,” Twelvetrees said. “Quiet Summit” is one of the least abstract pieces, with visible mountaintops and swirls of clouds. “They're all conversations,” she said. 

Twelvetrees typically starts her pieces with underlying marks of charcoal, which begin to suggest the next steps of the painting as she alters the lines with her brush. But that creative process is always in flux as the artist approaches each canvas with a willingness to learn. “I'm a young enough painter that I'm kind of always in school. I’m at an earlier stage than someone who's been intentionally making paintings for 30 years,” she said. “Every painting is a lesson.”