News : 2012

"Simple equations a deliciously complex treat. Clay Ellis defines artistic space with multi-dimensional works"
Janice Ryan, Edmonton Journal

Visual Arts Review

Clay Ellis: simple equations, sticks, and mascots for dirty little cities

Where: Peter Robertson Gallery, 12304 Jasper Avenue

When: until March 6

More info:


EDMONTON - “I wonder what he’s done this time,” I say to my friend as we enter Peter Robertson Gallery. We are attending Clay Ellis’ opening reception of “simple equations, sticks, and mascot for dirty little cities.”


Ellis, an artist who is as inventive and innovative as he is a maker of eye-catching aesthetics, left me awestruck in 2009 with his polychromatic sculptures featured in Related Articles, a fusion of polished stainless steel and glossy hits of intense colour assembled to reflect the jewel tones like a mirror.


I suggest to gallery owner, Peter Robertson, that Ellis is off the charts, that his work is beyond definition.


“There is absolutely no doubt about it,” he nods, adding, “Clay is a world-class artist. He stays pretty well ahead of the curve so it is always really interesting to see what he is coming up with.”


It is impossible to lay eyes on Ellis’ work and pull away. The colour grabs you, the marks and layers hold you. A swell of slick, glossy paint rises from the surface challenging the spatial relationship between shallow and deep space; dots and squiggles tease the eye across the plane; layer upon layer of high chroma colour, form and texture leaves one wondering, “How the heck did he do this?


One second you want to poke these paintings-quasi-sculptures with your finger to see if they are wet, to see if the inflated bit is spongy; the next you are resisting an urge to peel back one of the strongly defined edges to see what’s underneath.


“It’s little out of people’s comfort zones,” says Robertson “it’s good to push yourself a little bit because the trip is well worthwhile.”


The Journal caught up with Ellis to talk about this new body of work.


This work has been two-and-a-half years in the making. How does it feel to see your creations fill the gallery?


The funny thing is, I don’t view work like that. For me, I like standing in front of one piece. A lot of times when my wife and I travel, we just go to look at galleries. Everything else that happens, happens on the way to or back from a gallery. And when we look, we do a fast pass through and work out what it is we want to stand in front of and really look at.


Interesting. So, what excites you about this new work?


I am pleased that all of these different approaches to putting work together and all of these different parts of the process are beginning to gel. You start to utilize all of these things that develop in your studio; all of the component parts begin to come together. It takes a long while to work that kind of thing out.


Did anything in particular inspire this show?


I think that in studio, if you’re paying attention to the nuance of the material, to the combinations that are coming together, maybe in an unexpected way, then many times you are pushed off in a direction very quickly. It’s maybe four or five little things that come together so it’s not like being inspired by one particular event. For me, it comes from being in the studio, it’s my favourite place to be.


The line between sculpture and painting gets blurred in your work. Why do you refer to these pieces as “objects on the wall?”


Most of my pieces are constructed more than painted. What I want to get to in the work is an image that is convincing. I pay attention to the character of the material and respect its properties. Trying to get to a process that relates directly to the material I am using has always been important to me. And I spend a lot of time dealing with where things sit in space. I like to think that it defines a very particular space, not just ambient space.


You mentioned that your mark making is kind of a reflection of what you encounter in your day, “ripples in a cloth” for example. Are these gestures are intuitive?


I think they are. You sort of build up a vocabulary of these marks.


You have been making art full time for 34 years. Is it a challenge to keep it fresh?


Everyone makes what they need. I want you to experience my work while you are standing in front of it. I don’t want you to walk away with a narrative. That is not what I want in this experience


For me, looking at your work is a singular experience. Yes, I see the many elements but the joy comes from looking at the whole piece.


I am very pleased to hear that. One of the things I try really hard to create is the singular thing. From the great big vessel sculptures I was doing in the early 90s to these objects, I do want them to be singular.


Clay Ellis is featured in the Art Gallery of Alberta’s exhibition, “VENERATOR,” until May 21.

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