A Q&A WITH
BRITISH MULTI-MEDIA ARTIST LEE ELLIS
Since joining the Clarendon Fine Art portfolio in 2022 Lee Ellis has impressed collectors with his distinctive figurative and portrait works. His bold use of colour and experimental techniques combine to create art that is both vivid and surreal. This month we chatted with Lee about all things art...
Can you tell us any interesting facts about your collections?
"All of my works are painted in my studio that I built at the end of my garden. Before that they were always painted in the house that I lived in. The work is always created with a sense of urgency. I have this insatiable desire to create and find the energy and urgency comes across in the work – usually through texture, mark making and sense of movement (especially in the oil paintings and spray paint pieces). Any hidden messages are unconscious additions as I focus on the act of creating. I find this focus works for my self-expression and the work can vary depending on my mood."
Have you ever had any formal (or informal) artistic training?
"I touched on painting at art college, but it was only brief as it was part of an art foundation. I ended up studying Graphic Design at university and taught myself to paint over the years through a lot of experimentation and making a lot of mistakes in the process. I’ve managed to pick up hints and tips from other artists as well. An artist friend, Jim Starr, took all of my black paint off of me many years ago and told me to paint without it for a bit. It meant that the colours no longer got muddied from the black and my technique improved. That was actually quite a big deal for me at the time."
What is the most memorable response you have ever had to your work?
"The responses are always very extreme. The work has that Marmite reaction – love or hate. Never in between."
How would you describe your work to someone who had never seen it?
"Ooohhh... macabre undertones jazzed up with colour, patterns and completely absurd titles. Think Francis Bacon meets Andy Warhol meets the surreal comedy of The Mighty Boosh."
Do you paint in a disciplined way or would you describe your style as free?
"It’s kind of both. I’m disciplined in the way that I paint every day, but the style is free and open to serendipity. I don’t plan works very often and let the work evolve organically as I progress with them. The works I do plan, rarely stick to the plan. They change and I build on them throughout the process, often looking completely different from the initial concept."
Which artists do you most admire and have they influenced your work in any way?
"Where do I begin! The most obvious inspiration would be Francis Bacon. I love the macabre portraiture and texture he used. Amazing. I admire so many. Here’s small list to start with – Bacon, Lucian Freud, Picasso, Warhol, Adam Neate, Joseph Loughborough, Andrew Salgado, Adrian Ghenie... The list goes on. They’re all influencing my work in some way. From the way Joseph Loughborough uses charcoal and carves lines with erasers, to the use of colour and pattern in Salgado’s work. I love the way Warhol used print and could repeat pieces over. I like to screen print my drawings and paint over each one to create unique original pieces. Neate's dimensional paintings have a depth I've never seen before. All amazing artists who inspire / influence me for different reasons."
Have you changed and developed as an artist over the years? What have you learned?
"Absolutely. I’d be concerned if I hadn’t. The work has improved (at least I like to think so) and my skills have gotten better. I’ve learned how to use different mediums and developed ways to use them together. I’ve also learned how to market myself. It’s something that didn’t occur to me early on in my career. My dedication to creating has been pretty consistent."
What do you want people to take away from your paintings?
"Whatever they want to take away. As long as they feel something I don’t mind. I personally think it’s up to the viewer to take what they want from my work. They can interpret it in as many different ways as they choose. It would be a bit arrogant of me to tell them what to see and how it should make them feel."
How do you go about creating one of your works – what is the process?
"Depends on the medium. Pretty much all pieces start with a charcoal drawing. The initial marking up is done with charcoal and built upon with paint after. The spray painted portraits on paper have no marking up and are created on the fly. Pure self-expression."