"The title “They Say I Chose This” references my experience encountering Ableism throughout my life. I grew up learning the narrative that illness and weakness was due to some sort of moral failing. I have often been told by various doctors and even family that my chronic illness and pain is in my head or the result of a poor attitude. I created this piece on clayboard because I enjoy working on an ultra-smooth surface that allows me to use redactive methods in my painting. Clayboard is a type of hardboard with a thin, compact layer of clay covering the surface. It is a sturdy panel that allows artists to combine translucent and opaque painting techniques with etching. I use woodblock carving tools to carve into the clayboard to create sharp, definitive lines for rope. I utilize a variety of media and mark-making materials such as palette knives, oil pastels, brushes, graphite and piping bags to explore texture and color. I intentionally paint and arrange colors on the surface that accentuate and vibrate off of each other. This is a playful process using experimentation with thick applications of the paint to shape and sculpt dimensionality on the surface."
- Madison Elyse Rubenstein
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Oil Paint, Gesso, and Graphite on Clayboard Panel
36" x 36"
“Making art is not only a self-reflective practice, but also one that makes it possible to dream and imagine new futures.”
Madison’s intricate, colorful art leaves the viewer captivated all while exploring important topics of the body, gender and disability. Born in Los Angeles, Madison later moved to Minnesota during childhood. Just like any young child zey were drawn to art materials and creating images of the world around zem. This creative passion was immediately nourished by zeir parents, who enrolled zem in summer art classes as early as age five.
Around age six, Madison started developing chronic pain and extreme executive dysfunction due to untreated mental illness and stress at home. Not before long, drawing and painting became zeir tool to create visual representations for what zey were experiencing. As Madison describes, “Art became my language and catharsis.”
Growing up, Madison felt restricted by gender norms, so art became zeir therapeutic space to process these emotions. “Art is an unrestricted realm where I can freely express and explore my gender, my disabilities, my thoughts, my dreams, and my emotions without judgment. The only limit is what I can imagine, and my access to resources to create art,” zey share.
Madison explores complex topics such as our relationships with our bodies. Living with multiple comorbidities including PTSD and Fibromyalgia, zey use art to address inner conflict while visualizing zeir body in harmony. Zey explain, “I paint abstract representations of my body in transitory spaces that either reflect tension within the body or an imagined space where I feel liberated from the restrictions of my physical form. The deeper I dive into my practice and develop my visual language, the more I heal my relationship with my body.”
Zey are inspired by Abject Art, which is an art movement exploring the visceral quality of the body’s functions, especially things that may seem impure or taboo, such as illness. Zey describe, “I’m drawn to this style of art because of the way it challenges what is ‘normal’ for our bodies, and its capacity to force us to reckon with the strangeness of our own physical forms.” Zey go on to say, “Much of my work is large-scale because I want the viewer to relate the forms in my images to their own body, and for the scale of the image to seemingly engulf them.”
When beginning a new work of art, Madison begins by sketching out the structure and composition of the image using colored pencils or graphite. Zey follow this by building up the image with light washes of paint to create a base for the image. Madison describes, “I continue to paint to build up the surface while defining shape and form; fleshing out midtones, highlights and shadows to give the image weight.” Madison’s experience at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design led her to explore water-based media such as india ink and gouache. Zey love how these fluid, organic qualities enable her to “create visual spaces that feel transitory, in motion, and emotional.”
Other materials that zey explore include oil pastels and oil paints, which zey use to create highly-saturated impasto paintings. Zey enjoy making small, still-life sculptures that inspire zeir abstract, mixed media paintings. Utilizing a variety of media and mark-making materials such as palette knives,carving tools, brushes and piping bags, Madison is able to unleash a plethora of texture and color. While intentionally examining composition and form, Madison also arranges colors purposefully to accentuate and vibrate off one another, leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.
Reflecting on zeir life journey so far, Madison says zeir most important accomplishment is graduating from college. Zey hoped to attend art school, but the financial investment was out of reach. Zey tried to attend a liberal arts college, but found zeirself struggling with academics, mental health, physical health, and substance abuse. Recognizing the need for change, zey returned home to a community college where zey rebuilt zeir GPA and health through dedication and perseverance. After 5 1⁄2 years of undergrad, Madison proudly received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in one of the top accredited private art schools in the country, Minneapolis College of Art & Design..
Despite hardship, Madison expresses, “Making art gives me a reason to survive beyond my difficulties with my health and chronic pain.” Though zey are often in bed due to the effects of the illnesses, zey devote any time zey have to creating. The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges, including less access to health resources as well as losing zeir housing. Thankfully, zey currently have stable housing and continue freelance work when zey feel well enough. The chronic and unpredictable nature of zeir illness makes consistent, long-term employment nearly impossible at this time, however, zeir art career continues to thrive due to zeir hard work, resilience, and passion for creating.
Madison centers zeir values and beliefs around the Jewish concept: “none of us are free until we are all free.” As an Ashkenzai Jew whose ancestors on both parents sides fled Western Europe to escape war and anti-semitism, Madison proudly supports any cause that wishes to seek justice for marginalized people. This includes involvement in zeir LBGTQIA+ community, Disability justice, Racial Justice and Mad justice. Zey hope that ArtLifting will enable zem to improve zeir quality of life, helping zem to afford treatment for chronic pain, medications, supplements, mobility aids, doctor recommended foods and more. Zey dream of being able to support zemself completely and having extra income to support family, community members, and zeir art career.
“When someone connects to artwork they are connecting with something outside of language. People connect with art in ways that are intuitive and profound. Knowing my artwork resonates with someone creates an opportunity for us both to feel seen and understood.”
ArtLifting champions artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork. Learn more here.