It is fashionable right now for young artists to paint with anything but paint: photocopiers, fire extinguishers, colored threads. This is not a fashion to be followed by Sharon Ellis whose preternatural paintings are on view at Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica through May 3.
Ellis is now a mid-career artist and if you haven't seen a lot of her paintings, there is a good reason. She only completes one a year. Her exceedingly patient dealer has been representing her for fifteen years and has a waiting list of equally patient clients who wait to buy a work by her. Why? They are just transcendentally lovely. Though based in a long tradition of mystical landscape painting of the 19th and early 20th century -- William Blake, Caspar David Friedrich, Georgia O'Keeffe -- Ellis finds otherworldly delights in nature. Her paintings are not specifically representational. Nature emerges as patterns, often symmetrical, vines and flowers, snowflakes and stars are set against the magical glowing light of dusk or dawn.
Why do they take a year to complete? Though not overly large, more or less three feet either vertically or horizontally, she applies thin layers of glaze to create the effect of emerging light and colors of exceptional depth and complexity. Think of the sky or sea, the variety of blues, the extension into infinity. Ellis is able to capture such effects in way that most painting and photography do not.
She did not come by her style of painting easily. After finishing her undergraduate degree in the radical art department of UC Irvine in 1978, she was too confused to paint for three years. After completing her graduate degree at conservative Mills College in 1984, she was equally distressed. After moving to New York, she educated herself by looking at actual paintings in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick. History provided what contemporary art could not.
Consider "Winter Bouquet," (2009) white and red flowers vibrate against an evening blue sky lit by countless radiant stars. Just one of the half dozen supernatural and super wonderful paintings in her exhibition.
For more information, go to cgrimes.com.
Banner image: Installation view of Sharon Ellis, 2014. All images courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California