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Elise Peurifoy Speights [1920 -2012]
We became acquainted with Elise Speight’s work several years ago and decided then and there she fit our mission to promote and market mid-century modernist art. From the 60s until the late 80’s she produced remarkable black and white Op Art paintings derivative of the Constructivist movement of the 20th century. Late 80s until 2000 she concentrated on simplified abstract expressionist landscapes with subtle and surprising color.
A single parent Speights worked as a draftsman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation sharing her skill in her black and white painting method. She took art training with New Deal muralist James McLean at the United Arts Institute in Raleigh, later the NC State University School of Design, and for thirty years workshops with the inspiring Joe Cox. Throughout her career with the day job, schooling, associated influences, and a lively circle of artist friends, she seriously and single-mindedly shaped an identity as an abstract painter. Strong design and inventive concepts underpins her evolving style from the austere black and white Op Art paintings to her color abstractions of the 90’s.
Her numerous exhibitions, group and solo, include NC Mint Museum in Charlotte; NC Museum of Art, Raleigh; Gibbes Art Gallery in Charleston, SC; St. John’s Gallery, Wilmington, NC; Manufactures Hanover Trust, Madison Ave. NYC.; Page-Walker Arts & History Center, Cary, NC; and Gallery C in Raleigh. Significant solo exhibitions are the Downtown Gallery, Durham, NC and Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA.
She took many first prizes in competitive exhibits and the purchase award with the UNC School of Public Health, Chapel Hill. In honor of her brother US Ambassador John E. Peurifoy she has a painting in the permanent collection of our embassy in Greece.
A famous bon vivant Elise Speights loved to party and travel. Workshops with Joe Cox at the North Carolina coast were joyful and productive for Speights; she enjoyed sailing and playing cards with the regulars those trips. She travelled with friends in Germany and Greece, absorbing the spirit and fellowship those places inspired as opposed to feeing responsible for documenting her travels in paint. One of that social circle, her friend Billy Farmer was an accomplished jazz musician; they travelled to Germany together and even taught her jazz piano.
Her positive energy and intelligence speaks in her abstract work whether restricted to black and white or seducing the viewer in alluring color. Speights was a genuine modernist, never stagnant, always evolving toward the next…and that’s what identifies real modernists of the 20th century. That’s the profile and look we go for at Andrejev Galleries; no irony here, we believe such art knows no borders and can reawaken us to value a deeper engagement with art and how it is made.
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