I have known Ellen for several years. It took me only a half hour to fall in love with her. She is a deeply cultured, intelligent, warm, humorous and candid person. I wanted to do this interview a year ago, but Ellen was ill and I never got to ask her. Now with the advent of her show at Randall Harris’ Figureworks Gallery, and Ellen having gotten through all her medical stuff, the timing seemed perfect. Aside from being a wonderful painter, Ellen runs her own gallery Art 101 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She comes from an intriguing family of women painters and has published a book centered on the life and work of her grandmother and family called “Dear Females.”
Let’s start by discussing the paintings in your show here at Figureworks.
This was a painting I did quite a while ago, (Ellen pulls out a small, orangish painting) and I put it in Randall’s self portrait show. See this shape: everything in this show is taken from this shape.
The shape is obviously the female figure.
Actually all my life I have been working with female torsos, the shape is almost abstract.
How did you begin working with that form?
From drawing the model I guess, then starting to paint. I’m not intellectual. It all just comes along.
You are intuitive?
I guess so. These two paintings in the first room were done before I got my diagnosis and my operation. So, then I got the diagnosis in April, which was pretty severe. Had the operation in May, couldn’t work for a while. In June I met with the oncologist and he told me that this disease can come back in a year or two and kill you. I came home and thought well, I’m dead. That inspired me to schedule the gallery for the next year and to start to paint again.
That is so totally you.
I had some paintings started and I continued those and started some new ones. Something in me made me go and buy some wood, have it cut into strips, and put the strips in the middle of the panels thus separating them. I looked at the first one I did a couple of weeks later and I thought, “Oh, I did that because I was cut up and put back together.” I had these two which I was working on. I decided to keep them separate, and horizontal. You see it’s still the same shapes, they are landscapes now.