Exhibitions : 2016

Clay Ellis RCA
Thursday, November 17, 2016 - Saturday, December 03, 2016


New process enables new sculptures


The wordplay of Clay Ellis’ title, “Sculptures At An Exhibition”, carries more meaning than a simple reference to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition”. Ellis’ approach to making art is anything but simple, and extends well beyond the irony of associating his latest exhibition with the 10-movement piano piece that itself was inspired by an art exhibition.


In fact, “Sculptures” is significant because he has applied work methods developed for wall reliefs to the sculptures – both of which are included in the show. “Over the past four years I’ve refined a number of processes,” he says. “With these pieces, it’s the first time that I was able to pull some of the marks from the wall paintings and apply them to the sculpture process.”


The “marks” he refers to are part of what he terms his “vocabulary”, and are key elements in his work. He uses the term often to describe a repertoire of recurring images that he has assembled over his 40-year career. Some elements originate from his early years growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat and stem from the landscape and ranchlife, such as the tooled leather patterns that have made their way up from Mexico, or textures of a fresh brand on a calf’s hide. “As soon as you start looking at those patterns and realize how abstract they are, it’s not much of a leap for me to take those images and turn them into a vocabulary that I use on a daily basis,” he says.


He has long used his vocabulary on the wall reliefs where they are applied as both background or foreground elements – typically defined, or partially enclosed by sweeping, circular strokes of colour. Thus, a leather tool-inspired pattern may appear in the background, while other repeated marks include a symmetrical pattern of dots, much like a sieve, or a grater; variations sometimes sit on the surface, or protrude, stretched over an irregular half-cylinder-like shape.


“I have always looked at the wall pieces as reliefs,” Ellis says. “Now, I’m applying the same vocabulary of images used for those reliefs on to free-standing structures, allowing the viewer to look at the work from multiple angles.”


He also further integrates the coloured elements by taking advantage of the reflective quality of the polished aluminum and stainless steel components.


“My use of imagery with a vocabulary is akin to music – it’s like building a soundscape,” he says. “I’m more interested in a combination of things coming together rather than having a starting point as a clear concept.”


Born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada in 1955, Clay Ellis grew up on a ranch. He currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has maintained a studio since 1981. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions in England, France, Spain, Botswana, the USA, and Canada, and he has created public commissions for the cities of Vancouver, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, and Edmonton. Ellis’ work can be found in public collections across Canada, as well as internationally with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, Spain; Triangle Trust, New York, USA; and the National Gallery of Botswana. Clay Ellis was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2014. 


by Stuart Adams