Artist Eliza Douglas on the Medieval Mystic Radical Before Her Time

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Eliza is wearing a cotton check and newspaper-print shirt and bleached chino trousers by Balenciaga. Her own T-shirt, glasses and ring

14th-century anchoress Julian of Norwich, who referred to Jesus as ‘Mother’, is a recent fascination for the New York-born artist

“I learnt about Julian of Norwich when I took a class on mysticism in graduate school. She was an English anchoress who dedicated her life to counselling those in need in the 14th century – a time riddled with plague, poverty and famine. On what she thought to be her deathbed in 1373, aged 30, she was being read her last rites, when she apparently went numb and started losing her sight. Over a few hours she received a series of 16 visions of Christ. She eventually recovered from her illness and wrote them down. They became the Revelations of Divine Love, the oldest-known book written by a woman in the English language. Most notably, she referred to Jesus as Mother – an extremely atypical categorisation, which nicely contrasts with the patriarchal structures of most religions. She wrote this more than 600 years ago, yet her statements would still be considered radical and controversial. This is something I appreciate about mysticism in general – it is as much about heresy as it is about orthodoxy.”

Only 18 months after enrolling at the Städelschule in Frankfurt, Eliza Douglas was offered her first solo exhibition at Air de Paris. Shows at Museum Folkwang, Essen, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, and the Jewish Museum, New York, followed swiftly. Her works offer neat but perplexing dichotomies: the hyperreal meets psychedelia; accuracy meets abstraction. Her hands and feet paintings – exquisitely rendered digits that dissolve into streaks of whirling limbs – are pleasingly recalcitrant: “People always focus on the fact I outsourced the hands and feet. Someone else paints them because I don’t have traditional painting skills.” Since meeting girlfriend and artist Anne Imhof, Douglas has performed in many of her pieces. Having walked in five of Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga shows, Douglas continues to expand her plurality.

Hair: Pawel Solis at Artlist Paris using Oribe. Make-up: Adrien Pinault at Management Artists using MAC. Photographic assistant: Charlotte Krieger. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Camila Paiva and Georgina Craig. Make-up assistant: Marie Tritsch

This story originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now.