By Jess Kwiatkowski
This is the fourth article in a series featuring the artists in PaLatte Art & Coffee from 4/06/18 to 06/30/18. Read the introduction and first article here.
Haley Ellis – @halebop_ellis (instagram)
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I grew up in a family that, though it was not itself artistically inclined, was always supportive and nurturing of my creativity. There never was a question as to whether or not I would be an artist in some sense. I graduated from the Gwen Frostic School of Art in 2017 where I earned my BFA with an emphasis in Printmedia. From there, I went on to work for Vector Distribution, a screen printing company here in Grand Rapids. Although I’m not directly involved in the artwork, I have my hand in the production and printing of the work and so it feels somewhat fulfilling.
How did you choose the works for this installation? Is there a special theme?
The work I chose for this installation focuses heavily on the relationship between man and nature. There’s an awkward dance, a push and pull, that is in play between us. When one force pushes, the other responds and pushes back.
In viewing your work, I took away a sense of humor from your pieces. “They Came in the Night” especially struck me as rather sardonic. “Elephant in the Room” is a truly stunning oil painting, but the title also suggested a sense of levity. How do approach the mood of your pieces?
Humor is definitely present in my work. The relationship between man and nature is riddled with violence and loss and consequences to our actions that, by and large, people would rather not face. I try to present these issues in a way in which the audience can look at and respond to the work without feeling the initial impulse to turn away in disgust. It seems more effective than showing the obvious gull covered in oil with a plastic ring around its neck, or a polar bear drowning among the melted ice caps.
I also noticed a sense of animals overwhelming the canvases in this installation. How does nature, or animals, play into what you create?
The sense of overwhelming you picked up on is something I’m still trying very hard to develop in my work, so I’m actually ecstatic that you picked up on it. It is an attempt to respond to the devastating population growth of humankind, the way in which the earth itself is overwhelmed by our presence, and also the booming populations of the species that are best suited to surviving in the world we have created. Invasive species, and scavenger animals like crows and raccoons thrive among us, and, as a result, humans find themselves in constant battle with these “pests”.
“The Bear” had a charm about it; the play of the animal with camouflage (blending as a fir rather than into a general forest setting) added a playful tinge. However, the window lights that lay over the grass reminded me of a skyscraper. Is there a story behind this piece?
I suppose there is always some sort of narrative behind my work, and The Bear is no exception. I mentioned the push and pull relationship of man and nature, and in this piece, it comes into play. The development of suburban and urban areas has continued to shrink the habitats that animals, like bears, depend upon and so they become more and more present in the “human world” as they try to adapt. They scavenge on our trash and become nuisances. This stands as a reminder that, no matter how much we change the face of this earth, nature will always find a way to push back. In this work, I imagined someone waking in the night and looking out the window of their home to see the shadow of a bear that has made it past their fence.
Is there a particular moment, or a period of time in your life, when you decided to pursue visual art as a career?
I honestly don’t remember any defining moment when I can say that that’s when I decided to be an artist. I hate to sound cliché by saying “I always loved art” or “I’ve been passionate about art since I was a little girl” but that’s unfortunately not far from the truth. For me, it’s been a lifelong learning experience that I began the moment I first picked up a Crayola crayon. I’m still learning. I don’t think the learning process ever stops, really, and it was not until recent years that I finally started to discover what my work was about and what it meant to me as an artist. Maybe the best answer I can give is that, when I was little, just drawing with colored pencils all over my homework and getting nothing but praise from my elementary through high school art instructors, it was easy to work in a vacuum. For some reason, I was resistant to the idea of looking at other artists’ work and researching them. I guess it was because I wanted to be original. This is actually crippling to an artist. I didn’t realize this until I went on to art school and found that, while I could draw with the best of them, my understanding of core concepts and current events in the art world was incredibly weak. When my professors forced me to look outside of my own narrow perspective, things really started falling into place and I began to find my way as an artist making work that means something. I feel I’ve only just begun to figure it out though, and I still have a long road ahead.