Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Maturing on the Street and in the Studio

“It doesn’t matter how old you are it matters what you are doing.”
Chris (Daze) Ellis

Now in his 50’s, the artist Chris (Daze) Ellis has graduated from using New York’s subway trains as his gallery in his teens to showing his work in museums today. Although he still ventures out on to the streets to maintain that connection with his roots. Whilst his style has evolved from illegal tags to figurative works, his current subject matter is more often than not about the streets.

As he explained in the Other People Just Took Different Path video “I think one of the things that made me different is that from the very beginning I always combined figurative elements with style, with wild style and [it’s] something I continued into a lot of my paintings. Even though, now in my painting I really don’t do a lot of lettering.”

Ellis was in his mid-teens when he attended New York’s High School of Art and Design and it was there that he joined the graffiti culture.

As he explained to the Very Nearly Almost magazine In 1976 I entered the High School of Art and Design and that school always had a large concentration of writers that were going there, so when I was about 15, 16, I started meeting people that were actually going out and painting trains, it was great.”

In the early 1980’s Ellis’ focus shifted from trains to walls.

About which he has said “My interest in painting trains started to wind down around that period, because I had already painted with most of the best people in the movement and I just felt I had said and accomplished as much as I could do, and felt that making paintings and exhibiting them and being all about that… At first I didn’t really think about it, because after you’ve painted a train, a wall is so secondary, that it’s just not that exciting or worthwhile. But I realized that wasn’t the case, I had to change my whole thinking pattern about it, because there was some really amazing stuff that was being produced and I wanted to be a part of it.

Around the same time his studio paintings were starting to appear in galleries and alternative art spaces although he regularly painted increasingly ambitious murals.

As he says “Painting murals and doing public work has always been a really important thing to me, and it continues to be. My studio work is really important, but bringing the work to the people and having direct interaction with people on the street is also a large aspect of what I do.

And over the years the public appreciation of the work produced on the streets has increased in sophistication.

“When I was painting a wall 20 years ago in the Bronx it didn’t matter what I painted people would look at it and they’d be kind of, like, “Oh that’s really good. Oh wow this guy can paint a face, it’s so realistic.” Now because everyday people have seen so much in public, paint a wall in the Bronx, it can be tough. You have some tough critics out there that say “Oh she doesn’t look like that,” he says.

It’s a subject that Ellis muses about stating “I always think drawing letters is very free. You never draw the same style more than once, it’s always changing, it’s always evolving, so it’s different, like, more organic… When you think about it, about the whole history of the whole culture, if people didn’t go beyond just doing their tags where would you be? It’s pretty much the basis for everything… Part of the fun of the whole culture is doing new things. That’s what keeps it interesting.”

It is an inspiration that also prevails within his studio.

As he says “I’m not really one of those artists who just waits around for inspiration. Even if I don’t feel like going to work, I go anyway, because I find the more I paint, the more ideas I have, so the studio becomes and incubator for ideas. I’m working on one painting but thinking about the next two paintings and where that particular work can go.

Ellis’ current exhibition of studio paintings The City is my Muse is on show at the Museum of the City of New York until the 1st of May 2016.

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