Elsa Rouy Talks About The Incubus and Her New Solo Show “Ephialtes” at GNYP Gallery

by Rubén Palma
Share this

The last time we talked to Elsa, was back in 2023. She is currently having a solo exhibition with GNYP Gallery, titled, “Ephialtes“, which delves into the idea of the incubus; a folkloric demon figure that disturbs and violates the sleep of an unsuspecting dreamer. Rouy uses this demonic ‘incubus’ figure, cited in early medical history as the main cause of nightmares and sleep paralysis, to explore themes around the grotesque body, psychology and sexuality.

Elsa’s work inhabit the realm of the nightmarish and the abject. Throughout the show, human forms are contorted and wrenched into misshapen, grotesque forms. Rouy’s figures are manic and frenzied; they enter into a warped corporeality and teeter on the unknowable border between life and death. Throughout Ephialtes, it is unsure whether the figures on display are the victims of the nightmare or the ones enacting it. In one sense, the shapes of the figures remind the viewer of the violent tossing and turning of a person experiencing a particularly disturbing or traumatic dream. At the same time, these distorted bodies could quite easily be the haunting conjurations of an overactive sleeping mind; terrifying the unfortunate dreamer.

To commemorate her newest solo exhibition, we decided to catch up with Elsa, to talk about the show and what she’s been up to since the last time we spoke.

Elsa Rouy at GNYP Gallery

Hi Elsa! it’s a pleasure to sit down with you again. The last time we talked was back in November of 2023, what have you been up to since then?

I’ve been busy! I had my solo The Only Daughter in LA with Steve Turner, which I went to LA for, it’s a super surreal place, I wasn’t there for long enough to get into the feel of it completely, which I need to go back and do. I was in two group shows, NEW NOW 2 at GUTS Gallery in London and The Body Electric at Larsen Warner in Stockholm. Most importantly, I’ve been working on and completing the works for my show Ephialtes at GNYP Gallery.

So your current solo exhibition at GNYP gallery in Antwerp, titled “Ephialtes”, how did that come about? And what’s the story behind the title?

Last year Marta and Giovanni, from GNYP approached Ellie from Guts, who Champions me, about having a show alongside Flurin Bisig as they thought our works would complement each other. I agreed and was really inspired by the opportunity. I wanted to use the show as a way to explore the body in a way that was different from my previous shows. I wanted to remove the outright gore aspect, that I love, and push how I create unease; to make a body of work that teetered along the lines of being thrilling and enticing paired with psychologically disturbing. This left me with the idea of dreams and nightmares, how the mind switches from a safe space to a suddenly dangerous and threatening space. While researching nightmares I came across the word, Ephialtes, an old British word for nightmare or a demon that causes a nightmare and thought it fit perfectly. 

The exhibition will feature 8 new works that are inspired by the incubus figure. What is it about the incubus that resonates with you and makes you want to document it?

The works are a mix of having nightmarish qualities and being inspired by the incubus. They’re sort of a play on demonic figures and incarnations of the self. I’m really interested in dualities. Posing the figures within the painting as the perpetrator of the horror and the victim. The tormentor or the tormented, or are they both simultaneously. The incubus is a male figure that has sex with sleeping women. I could have used the succubus, the incubus’s female counterpart, to base the figures on but I felt that was too cliché with discriminations against sexually liberated women. I also felt that the succubus’ need for semen to survive wasn’t very accurate with the figure I wanted to portray. The incubus felt more fitting for me. Broader than the incubus, I’m interested in nightmares. I want the viewer to question if what they are looking at is a nightmare or not. I have very vivid, graphic nightmares and feel that these have always subconsciously leaked into my artworks, so why not play into them. 

So how did you first learn about the incubus figure?

Oh, God knows, sometime when I was a teenager, probably from a YouTube video or something like that.

Can you tell me about your use of symbolism for this body of work to convey the essence of the incubus?

The Incubus are the figures in the painting and the figures are just manic people. The incubus is seen in the figures’ open and suggestive bodies, but the fragmentation of these bodies, torsos appearing as corsets and legs as tights, creates the disambiguation of a dream and nightmare – or a panic attack. The fragmentation calls into question the humanity of the figures. Are they demonic or just incarnations of our worst parts? Alternatively, the fragmentation removes gender and creates a tenderness and fresh break from mania, alluding to a queer identity. 

Can you also walk me through your creative process from beginning to end result?

I start with a series of visual research: drawings, images, magazine photos, my old paintings and create mock up collages, usually 3 paintings at a time. I stretch my canvas, then draw these up. I paint my paintings. For this show I worked on multiple at once. I wrap them up and send them off.

Do you have any specific rituals or practices that help you tap into the inspiration for these paintings?

Not that I can think of.

Are there specific aspects of the incubus mythology that you find yourself returning to in your art?

I think it would be fun to paint an incubus on a woman. A messed-up man on a woman. Perhaps I will take inspiration from Henry Fuseli. 

Alright Elsa. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

I think I said Don’t Look now (1979) last time, why change that!

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now

Overload – Sugababes

Related Articles