Toronto art critic R.M. Vaughan reviewed work by Eliza Griffiths (b.1965) in Canadian Art in 2002, describing Ottawa as “a cold porridge town” and “the PC capital of the world.” He wondered how Griffiths could possibly have been able to produce the highly charged and deeply sensual art for which she has become known, such as Penthouse Suite, an ambiguous painting showing two young women examining centrefolds from the men’s magazine Penthouse. Were they attracted to the images themselves, he asked, or were they trying to understand the nature of male sexuality? Griffiths responded to Vaughan’s derogatory comments about her city by stating, “Ottawa allows me the space to work, plus it’s close to bigger spaces. I go and get my stimulation in bursts and then come back and gestate.”
Born in the U.K., Griffiths came to Ottawa with her family in 1972. She grew up and went to school in the city, and after obtaining her BFA from Montreal’s Concordia University in 1992, she returned to Ottawa to study art history at Carleton University while working on her creative practice. She became deeply involved in the local arts scene, along with partner and fellow artist Reuel Dechene (1965–2017), and she worked with Enriched Bread Artists (EBA), the largest and one of the first studio co-ops in Ottawa.
Griffiths has written that the Ottawa art scene “had a sense of ambitious, excited, and game for anything collective creative energy…. Gallery 101 was a major hub of that community, along with the EBA, SAW Gallery and DIY galleries such as Creative Outlet, and Artengine…” She carved out a career by examining the psychological dynamic and power in relationships, exploring the nature of body posture and intimacy in large-scale works, often conveying a sense of interrupted action—as can be seen in Levitation, 2016, for instance. Curator Catherine Sinclair noted how in Incitement (Kirk Douglas Pose), 2003, Griffiths “positions the characters … as though mid-narrative, in a heated moment captured in a film still.”
In 2005, Griffiths moved to Montreal to teach at Concordia University, but she maintains her connection to Ottawa. After her husband passed away, she arranged a memorial exhibition of his work at Gallery 101 in December 2018.