Transcendentalism, the idea that divinity is immanent in all aspects of nature, was extolled by 19th century American writers such as Emerson and Thoreau as well as the landscape painters of that time. Sharon Ellis is a contemporary artist living in Yucca Valley but her paintings embody a similar reverence for the transcendent moments available in the radiance of a setting sun or rising moon. Light in its symbolic and transformational manifestations is the principle aspect of her art.
Sharon Ellis. Beltane, 2014. Alkyd on canvas. 34 x 42 inches 86.36 x 106.68 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Ellis is known to spend months, even years, on a single painting. Exhibitions of her work are rare so it is a special occasion to see the latest on view at Christopher Grimes Gallery through Oct. 27.
Trees, stars, clouds: all are energized as from supernatural forces. They do not relay on the verisimilitude of pre- photographic art like that of the 19th century artists but instead draw from modern precedents such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Pelton, both women who lived in areas of the high desert as she does.
Sharon Ellis. Strange Reflection, 2018. Alkyd on paper. Paper dimensions: 12 x 16 inches; 30.5 x 40.5 cm. Framed dimensions: 23-1/4 x 27-5/8 x 2 inches; 59 x 70 x 5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
Paintings in the current show are made with alkyd paint on paper, a particularly intense and controlled way of working. Ellis washes the paper with thin, translucent layers of color yet retains exacting graphic detail. Compositions are often symmetrical as in Morning Sun (2018) where glowing early light floods ornate arrangements of pale blue clouds. Other recent paintings are more naturalistic in composition. Blue Hour (2017) captures a crescent moon and sprays of starlight hovering over darkened mountains and night-blooming flowers. The moody tones of twilight are no less elevating, however, than the promising rays of dawn.
Sharon Ellis. Blue Hour, 2017. Alkyd on paper. Paper dimensions: 12 x 16 inches; 30.5 x 40.5 cm. Framed dimensions: 23-1/4 x 27-5/8 x 2 inches; 59 x 70 x 5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
This is Ellis’s ninth show with Christopher Grimes Gallery and it is the last. The gallery closes after decades of support for contemporary artists from this area, Europe and especially Latin America. Grimes will continue doing projects, especially architecturally-oriented commissions such as the one that he is now working on with Iñigo Manglano-Ovale. But the closing of his gallery speaks to a larger issue.
Sharon Ellis. Morning Sun, 2018. Alkyd on paper. Paper dimensions: 12 x 16 inches; 30.5 x 40.5 cm. Framed dimensions: 23-1/4 x 27-5/8 x 2 inches; 59 x 70 x 5 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.
As mega-galleries from New York and Europe establish substantial square footage in LA, the galleries that have long supported emerging or the mid-career artists, like Ellis, find that they can no longer afford the rising expenses. More important, less and less people actually go to their galleries as they rely on online art sites or art fairs. While Grimes, Marc Foxx Gallery and Acme have closed for different reasons, all found it too challenging to continue as so-called ‘brick and mortar” entities. While this is a completely understandable point of view but it is a loss to what used to be called “the art community.” Seeing art online or at fairs may be more efficient but so much is lost on so many levels without the more intimate connection of viewers and art as it can be seen in galleries. In the meantime, there are two more weeks to enjoy Ellis’s transcendent paintings at Christopher Grimes Gallery.