Filipino American contemporary artist Elisa Racelis Boughner met Samuel Akainyah one weekend in Chicago as she was in search for a gallery that would represent her oil-and-pastel drawings. After a long-winded day, Elisa and her husband, Martin, were on their way home and spotted an art space that spoke to Elisa's creative inclination.
"It had a color palette I loved," Elisa narrates. " I entered and met Sam, an elegant gentleman dressed in a three-piece suit and highly polished shoes." Elisa showed her work, and Akainyah issued a challenge. "He said if I would work with him and paint a series of large-scale oils on prepared board, he would turn over his entire gallery to me and my work. We had a black-tie opening six months later and never looked back."
Elisa was born in Evanston, Illinois, to Ramon Aylett Racelis Jr. and Joan Hanigan Racelis. The eldest of four children, the family was from a mixed race lineage. Elisa's grandfather was 100 percent Filipino, while her paternal American grandmother was 25 percent English and 25 percent Scottish. Her parents moved around a lot, having lived in Mexico City from the late 1960s to 1974. The family was tight-knit and Elisa had fond memories of their Mexico stint.
"Dad would take all of us kids on adventures--going to the zoo and park. He even took me on my first roller-coaster ride at Disneyland in California, driving with four kids, a maid and my mom in a car from Mexico City to California with no air conditioning. It was a great trip!"
Elisa's parents had supported her creative side even as a young child. "They enrolled me in an art class at eight years old, where the teacher would set up a still life, turn on classical music and let us work," she remembers.
Her sustained interest in art continued throughout her teen years. In college, she went to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, largely due to their highly rated arts program. While she initially began in graphic design, Elisa completed an undergraduate degree in printmaking and proceeded to finish her master’s degree in fine arts, concentrating in drawing and painting. "After graduation, I worked hard at finding my style as I raised my family," Elisa says.
She finds her strength and support from her husband, Martin Boughner, and their four children: daughter, Ryan, son Kyle, and twin sons, Bredt and Brennan. "Each is special and wonderful in their own way," she tells me. Marty works with Elisa on building an ever-evolving and productive art career. He has been a cornerstone in developing her artistic profession.
Elisa firmly believes in the power to create. One of her greatest influences, her college drawing teacher, John Rooney, always encouraged her to ‘create, create, create!’ Everyone is an artist in her own way," she observes. "They yearn for it but many do not follow their dreams; what should be a priority is doing what one loves."
Elisa is driven by a deep appreciation for life. "The simple act of getting up in the morning gives me joy! And realizing the great possibilities of who I am and who I can be every day."
The evolution of her artistic career was deliberate, having started out by drawing on 8x10 pieces of paper and then moving on to 11x14 sizes. It was essential to develop a color palette more so than the subject matter.
"The subject was the interaction of colors within the still life," she explains. Elisa mentions that one thing she learned from her mentor, Akainyah, was to have a theme in mind. "I have gone from a cubist style to an impressionist feel. Lately, I have pushed my colors even further."
One of her constants is always having a sketchbook by her side. "I take a sketch or two that I like and transfer them unto a larger canvas (prepared hard board). Then I just begin to paint directly out of the oil paint tubes," she describes.
Inspirations come from arbitrary places and the painting process is organic and fluid. "I work randomly throughout the canvas, never knowing where the colors will take me until I am finished. I complete most pieces outlining key elements in the painting with Prussian blue paint."
The year 2015 was special for Elisa as she was part of a select group of five Filipino American artists from Chicago and five Filipino artists from the Philippines that created a mural painting plus 10 individual paintings for Art & Anthropology: Portrait of the Object as Filipino exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Erehwon Center for the Arts in Quezon City in the Philippines. The project was the result of a grant written by Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ph.D. and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The grant supported an artistic exchange between the US and the Philippines. The outcome was a captivating visual narrative of what it means to be Filipino by individuals with varied backgrounds and cultural references and yet sharing a sense of Filipino nationalism and values.
For the Field Museum commission, Elisa made Revealed (2015). "This project was a wonderful way to delve into my father’s side of the family. I learned to enhance my Filipino heritage,” she recalls. Her painting for the mural illustrated vessels and depicted her general feelings leading up to the experience. “I was like an empty vessel before the project. The people I met, artists I worked with, and going to the Philippines had—all given me valuable things to fill that.”
While she has developed many paintings throughout her creative career, there are a few that will remain significant. Knowledge Within (2011) was a painting that was the centerpiece of her most recent (2015) one-woman show at the Ormond Art Museum in Ormond Beach, Florida.
Additionally notable was Romantic Pause (1998), which was the highlight of her first one-woman show at the Akainyah Gallery in Chicago.
Listening to Elisa Racelis Boughner, one can decipher an enthusiasm and zest for all things experienced and observed. Her paintings are defined by dynamic color and, evidently, this reveals a personal life perspective full of gratitude and hope for the future.
“I have met some amazing artists, and I have been fortunate enough to not only collaborate with them, but also to make wonderful memories. I can’t wait for future projects to come!”
Serina Aidasani divides her time between New York and Chicago. She works in marketing communications and public relations.
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