Five questions to  J. J. Ellis

Five questions to J. J. Ellis

 J. J. Ellis, born 1991 in Queens, New York, spent years behind the counter of the family’s butcher shop. When the world came to a halt in 2020, he found solace in painting abstracts from his kitchen table. Now, orchestrating his studio practice from his apartment in Brooklyn, his creations are featured on the walls of private collections spanning 5 continents and 33 countries.

Tell us your story, why did you become an artist?

I had no choice, it’s an affliction. Like a stray cat, it followed me around long enough that I had to pick it up. When I finished school, I knew the world had changed and saw many working in the arts being completely undervalued. So I tried everything else but painting. I did film scores, sound design, worked for a moving company, walked dogs, sold vegetables, and even apprenticed as a butcher for some years. I learned to do many things well, but I did painting best. I tried almost every other career before fate forced me to accept this truth about myself. I had three different day jobs and was bartending nights when the world shut down for covid. I had nowhere left to run and started painting abstracts in my kitchen. It felt like taking a breath after holding it in it for almost a decade. I began selling them for myself and immediately was doing better than any job I’d ever worked.

When you create a new work, how do you go about it? What comes first?

I try to ruin it immediately. There are no pedestals in painting and you don’t want to end up being too precious with it. That clean white canvas, get rid of it. The less thinking involved in the first steps, the more intuitive the marks, the more you let the work breathe on its own and tell you what it wants next. I’m into throwing everything at the wall until a revelation starts to emerge. Then you scrape away the bits that no longer suit you. 

What can you tell us about your studio, what makes it special to you and how does it influence the way you work?

My surroundings influence so much of my work. The work made in a messy studio look different from the one made in a clean one. The work made in the heat of summer is completely different from the one made in the winter cold. My studio now is special because it is in my house. Theres nothing better than photographing works to send to a client while still in your fuzzy slippers. It’s small but it’s full of warmth. I’m about to move into my dream studio in a new house at the end of the month and I fully expect my work to explode into something new and different once I’m there.

Is there a work of art in your life that has especially impressed you?

“Door to the River” by Willem de Kooning. I once stood in front of it for hours when I was in college and it made me realize the importance of distilling confidence into each and every brushstroke.

Reach to the stars: where will you be in 5 years?

Out of the city. I’ll be working from a studio somewhere in the woods. Everyone will see my paintings but won’t be able to see me. I will paint every day, uninterrupted, with someone else to box and ship and send emails. My life will be quiet and intentional.

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