Whiffs of Farewell and Fresh Paint in the Art Department

Mr Ellis

By Naomi Morris Omori

As seen in the Gloucestershire Echo (21.06.13) and in Pegasus Pages (June 2013).

Earlier this month, Jonathan Ellis, the Head of Art at the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, held an exhibition open to girls, members of staff, and the public at the Parabola Arts Centre, displaying the work which he produced during his sabbatical term. This summer term is his last before moving on to St. Paul’s Girls’ School.

In order to reproduce the ‘studio atmosphere’ of the creative haven of his studio in Tottenham Hale, London, Mr Ellis was working on an unfinished piece, mixing a palette in his paint-splattered overalls, in the gallery.

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Mr Ellis spent a term working in a ‘literally freezing studio by a canal’ and he concluded every evening by writing his thoughts and progress on an online blog which had a worldwide audience. “It was lovely because I had time, weeks and weeks and weeks to try things out. It was a joy, really.”

He visited galleries and private collections; attended life classes at the Royal Academy; became a student again at the Prince’s Drawing School in Shoreditch, and made weekly visits to St. Hilda’s East, a community centre in East London which has a long-standing affiliation with College, to draw portraits of senior members of the centre.

“It was so good for me to be taught by someone,” he remarked as he reminisced about being a student again, in the same position as his own students at CLC.

“All my work was done in the studio. My palette was inspired by Brick Lane. I just wandered up and down and picked up on the colours – they were ones that one wouldn’t normally use.”

He wrote in his proposal to College, “I am a painter and printmaker who can work successfully from life, yet I am drawn to the more esoteric nature of the flatness, harmonic possibilities and the more abstract handling possible in the studio.”

“This distinction has been brought into focus by the resurgence of figurative oil painting on the London and New York art scenes and our ever-more complicated and dependent relationships with devices like iPads.”

Indeed, Mr Ellis is known throughout College for having a great taste for technology. In his Prayers, he often swaps a paper script for an iPhone or an iPad, and his Prayers are always very swish. “I don’t use it directly,” he pondered hesitatingly, before adding, “I never use technology to create art. I do use it to aid me once the art is finished”, as he showed me pictures of his paintings on the walls of his studio, on his iPad.

Fellow colleagues and girls were admiring the work on the walls. Mr Watt, an art teacher, commented on the work of an artist, “How does an artist solve his own problem? There is no tangible solution. Not like a mathematician.” He was impressed by Mr Ellis’ work on black canvas.

Mr Ellis’ meticulous eye for detail is obvious as there is enormous depth added by each stroke in his paintings. “Of course, no-one else cares what colour I used here or there. But it matters hugely to me. This blue is really troubling me,” he noted as pointed to his half-finished painting, frowning deeply. The quality of the work which he has produced is outstanding and the girls gained enormously by learning of his experiences and viewing his work at the PAC. Certainly, during his time at College, he has inspired those applying to art colleges to continue to pursue their dreams of becoming artists.

Mr Ellis will be leaving us at the end of the year, taking over the Art at St. Paul’s Girls’ School as Head of the Department. We wish him all the very best.

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