Robert Ellis

Posted 2010. 12. 7. 07:10

2005, Oil & acrylic on linen, 1015 x 710mm

Robert Ellis is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent artists. He has held more than 60 solo exhibitions and innumerable group exhibitions in New Zealand and abroad. Over the past decades Robert Ellis’s paintings have addressed issues of New Zealand identity in which he draws together threads of European and Pacific cultures. These works make observations about the two cultural threads from a personal as well as social perspective. They combine European and Pacific images. Those deriving from the West include the horse, chair and chalice and medieval geometric designs. The Pacific imagery features the Ratana symbol and the koru while there are a number of others that cross boundaries such as the hand, the fish and the stars.” (1)

“I’m trying to convey a philosophic viewpoint. So my paintings are full of all sorts of things, symbolic conundrums that tempt the person looking into trying to seek and therefore to get more out of the paintings. I use disparate images I change the scale and because they are juxtaposed they assume a different kind of identity. They become something else.” (2)

“There is deliberate disparity between objects so that the final imagery is rich in meaning but partly enigmatic. Although narrative in content they are open to a variety of levels of interpretation. In all these images there is a sophisticated handling of design aspects as well as a rich colouristic and textural treatment of the medium”. (3)

“Underlying most of Ellis’s work is a conservationist ethic, a concern to preserve what is valuable from the past, whether it be spiritual or cultural values, natural landforms or simple lifestyles.” (4)

Ellis was born in Northampton, England 1929. He studied at Northampton School of Art from 1944 to 1947 and attended the Royal College of Art, London from 1949 to 1952. He came to New Zealand in 1957 to take up a position as Senior Lecturer at Elam School of Fine Arts where he taught from 1957 to 1994. He has lived on Auckland’s North Shore since 1970.

Ellis has works in numerous major public and private collections throughout New Zealand, UK, Australia, and the USA, including the British Foreign Office, Aotea Cultural Centre and Harrah’s Casino Collection Auckland. Although primarily known as a painter who demonstrates a “technical sophistication in the handling of design, texture and colour”. (5) Ellis has worked in many mediums including etching, tapestry, lithography, medallic casting, photography and video.

Arepa - Omeka 9 Maehe
1985, Acrylic on canvas, 1970 x 1730mm


(1) John Daly Peoples, ‘North Shore Artist’s Catalogue’ Northart 2001.
(2) Megan Lyon in conversation with Robert Ellis, July 2002.
(3) Michael Dunn, ‘A Concise History of New Zealand Painting’, Craftsman House, 1991.
(4) Warwick Brown, ‘100 New Zealand Paintings’, Godwit, 1995.
(5) Michael Dunn, ‘Contemporary Painting in New Zealand’, Craftsman House, 1996.

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