Was asked to do a Biography for the Queensland Art Society and like many of us, there was a massive groan.. What on earth do we say about ourselves and our work? So for the past week and half this has been my project. For those who may be interested, here goes.
A number of people have said that ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is) is in Ellis’s genes and to some extent they may be correct. Her grandmother painted and so did her mother. Marge Barley started painting when she was 9 years old and achieved some acclaim in New Zealand. In turn, Marge’s mother, Ellis’s Grandmother started much later in life more from compulsion than conscious desire.
Ten years ago a well-intentioned friend shoved a paintbrush into Ellis’s clenched fist, forcefully moving her hand between paint pot and paper until it began to move of its own volition in a frenetic frenzy attended by a torrent of tears born of bewilderment and frustration, unaware of the wild colour and pattern imaging the fury from within. Ellis’s mother had passed away three years earlier from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
From these inauspicious beginnings Ellis began to paint, her first lessons were in New Zealand at the Hamilton Society of Arts. Seven years ago, Ellis and her husband moved to the Gold Coast where she met Stephen Buntrock of the Gold Coast Art School. With his encouragement, painting became more than just something to do. It became a passion.
Another passion is dance, Ellis loves the musical synergy of movement, the human form working with rhythm mood and emotion, sensing the freedom as the dancer soars across the floor with effortless ease. Like a lot of little girls, she was sent off to ballet in a somewhat desperate attempt by her grandfather to stop her stomping around the house. Eleven years later Ellis was selected to dance with NZ Ballet Company in a season of the Nutcracker. Did Ellis stop stomping? No.
Ballet was to be her life; that was until she met the man of her dreams. Never the less, ballet has featured in much of her adult life by way of teaching and outlets of involvement.
Another outlet Ellis quickly discovered was painting. She spent a long time pondering on the skill set required to achieve her end goal; how to portray the artistry of movement, the musicality and rhythm of dance, and the genius of the human form on canvas. Attempting different techniques, she discovered she was not an illustrator, but a painter who gravitated towards free movement.
Her next challenge was how to translate free movement into an illustrative narrative. One Sunday she was surfing the TV channels and came across a documentary on Gerhard Richter, a German visual artist and one of the pioneers of the New European Painting. Richter has produced both abstract and photorealistic paintings, but it was his abstract work that attracted Ellis’s attention. Abstract to Ellis, is movement, a rhythmic patterning of colour and form, painting’s equivalent of musical arrangement a perfect resolution to her image of dance and movement on canvas.
It has taken a year to clarify the technique, the first painting in the series Dance As You Like It was ‘Atlantis’, a wild experimentation of colour and shape as a backdrop to the movement of the human form.
As the series progressed Ellis began to understand how to manipulate the medium(s) to best represent the images perceived by her mind’s eye, but it wasn’t until she started work on the penultimate project in the current series ‘Jondalar’ that she had a Eureka moment. She had finally come to a point of understanding, a place where she can stay a while and perfect.
Ellis often wonders what her Mum would say if she were still here, left only with her mother’s paintings languishing against the wall.
As an apprentice in the art of painting Ellis hopes the path ahead will be clear, perhaps meander elegantly at her will. Maybe it will broaden out to a huge piazza where she may sit for a long while, then later choose the many paths that transverse the piazza or continue again down the main road.