Lee Ellis realised he didn’t want to be a Graphic Designer pretty quickly after finishing his degree in Graphic Design (much to our pleasure). Instead he poured all his creative energy into abstracted expressive painting. His unsettling, comical and sometimes disturbing portraits haven’t gone unnoticed here at the gallery. Ellis’ work is surreal and nightmarish (see the aptly named ‘Cheese Before Bed’ series). They’re cartoon like, puppet like, inhuman and human all at the same time;
“I mix it up quite a lot between self-portraits and found photography. More often than not, I start off with self-portraits and it evolves into something new by the time the painting is complete”.
Tony’s Terrible Toupee series displays Ellis’ signature style; his use of rushed and bold brush strokes to create a sense of character and movement is particularly evident in these pieces. Hollow, empty, white eyes stand out against the build-up of colour used elsewhere in the painting, achieving that unsettling, caricature effect. These differ somewhat from another collection; ‘They Call Me The Wild Card’, where the faces that appear in the paintings seem to be in their own state of distress and turmoil. Fear feels like an overriding theme, perhaps more of an internal fear, the effect of the monsters rather than the monsters themselves.
Of course, the portraits can easily be interpreted in many different ways, and when asked if the figures in his works were depictions of distress or dark emotion, Lee said;
“I get that a lot. I think of it more that the creative process for me is more destructive and often violent and that’s what comes across. I don’t really see the portraiture as haunted, but more the process making it appear like that. Does that make sense? There is of course emotion in the pieces. I often like to use bright colours to juxtapose against the portrait, almost to soften them and make them more accessible for people”.
October in the gallery is all about Lee as we have opened his first Scottish solo show! Titled ‘Pretty Ugly’ we felt the need for an explanation from him to understand how and why he names his pieces what he does given they form an integral element in his work.
“I love writing the names for the works. I like to inject a sense of humour into the pieces and often use a play on words. I guess I’m trying to make myself smile when I write them and try not to be too serious. Life’s too short for serious painting titles. Also a fun fact, I take notes on my phone of things people say from conversations I’ve had or overheard. I use these snippets to create titles”.
So watch what you say next time you answer your phone on the bus…
Pretty Ugly features an array of portraits that showcase Lee’s myriad talent and ability to produce incredible art in many different mediums.
“I do enjoy experimenting with as many mediums as possible and this show is no exception. You’ll find a plethora of mediums ranging from charcoal drawings to full on mixed media pieces. There’s even a set of lino cut works on paper with spray paint and pastel worked into them. I truly love creating my artwork and I find that to keep it fun and interesting for me, I like to play with whatever I have lying around. You should see some of the things I use to paint with. I’ve used tile grouters, scrap wood, electric sanders and plasterer’s trowels. Oh and of course the traditional brush”.
Lee’s next big project sees him tackle a series of large scale paintings based on the music of Tom Waits;
“I love his storytelling and have taken his music and created my interpretation of it“.
Ellis cites music as a source of inspiration for his work, along with places he has visited, bright colours and patterns. This is clearly evident in his work, but there is a filmic quality too. Like the characters in Jan Švankmajer’s 1994 film ‘Faust’, his paintings and drawings scuttle about in your mind, it’s as if you can hear them. The paintings are full of movement and some of the subjects gazes are so fixated, you feel as though you’re being stared at to look at them.
Lee Ellis’ paintings are like horror films and scary stories (some might say we’ve timed this perfectly for Halloween). They are frightening, affecting and undeniably enjoyable. We love them and we hope you manage to drop by the gallery this month to enjoy the show.