Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ellen Welch Granter: Boston, Mass.

Ellen Welch Granter

Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what (if any) were early influences on your work? Where do you live now?

I live in Brookline, MA, but I grew up outside of Rochester, New York, with my 3 siblings. I went to Catholic school then public High School. My greatest influences were my parents, they both supported my constant whirlwind of coloring, drawing, sewing, painting, pasting, pottery, knitting, whatever. My Mom used to get us discarded end rolls of newsprint from the Democrat & Chronicle, so we had miles of paper to work on. They often took us to the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester. Those were the days of Pop Art—lots of wild colorful constructions made of lucite and neon—which I loved. Another important influence was Girl Scouts. I loved working on the merit badges which involved varied projects, sculptures, weaving, or heaps of spray-painted pine cones...very crafty. I think Scouts gave me a lot of confidence and a can-do attitude about trying new things. Also, we travelled as a family a lot, in a red VW van.  I think I've been to every museum, civil war battlefield, Indian shell midden, and historic marker on the east coast, twice if it involved any kind of maritime history.

Three Blue   
Oil on canvas
12" x 12"

At what point in your life did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

I didn't get fully on an art track until I was in my 30's. I have a BA in Political Science and a Masters in (Chinese) History from University of Vermont. I spent six years studying Mandarin Chinese, including two years living in Hong Kong and Beijing. But my primary nature is not academic, and I finally realized that. My mother was right, I probably should have gone to art school.  Looking back, my high school art teacher Binnie Birstein was a great inspiration to me. It was hard to be a 6-foot-tall 13 year-old, and she was wonderfully kind.  (Happily we just re-connected on Facebook, and am inspired by her artwork all over again.)

Red and Gray   
Oil on panel
12" x 12"

We moved to Boston and I became a graphic designer. Probably as a response to the constraints of working as a designer, I spent more and more time painting. 

Then I found Gema Phillips at the Brookline Art Center. For many years her Monday night painting class was a vitally important learning environment for me.  Lynette, I met you there too!  After I started painting more conscientiously, my years studying Chinese and Chinese art emerged  more apparently a part of my creative "bone-structure". I didn't consider myself primarily an artist until 2004 or so, when I got my first solo show and started selling. Now painting is such an integral part of my every day, I even have painting dreams. 

What is your media?

At this point, I am almost completely devoted to oil paint. Most of my work is small to mid-sized, on canvases and panels. Occasionally I use some gold leaf, but it is fussy to work with, so I am trying to minimize that, although I am addicted to the effect it has. Compositionally, I am a minimalist, it's all about color.

Oil on canvas
3 (24" x 48")
What is your current work about? 
My work has been a 7-year long series of bird paintings. I thought at first that they were actually about birds, because I love the small shapes and all their little parts, but I am increasingly aware that they are really just an excuse for the juxtaposition of colors. My adoration of an intense red shape with burnt orange highlights on a huge gray-blue field could just as easily be a cherry on a table top as a bird on a wire, I chose bird on a wire because it has an internal life action that still-life or landscape lacks.  Maybe that means that I am just a misguided cake decorator. I would actually love that job...but seriously, my work does show my love for the pretty, the graphically strong, the decorative, the minimal. I also paint plein air during the summer, usually landscapes around the beaches and marshes of my favorite places in the area. 

Indigo Evening
Oil and gold leaf on canvas
12" x 12"

What is your workspace like?

I crave a huge studio with skylights, ventilation, bookshelves, storage, large tables, sewing machine table, comfortable couch, sink, studio assistant to prepare canvases and bring me latt├ęs. But no. A small bedroom in my 3rd floor walk-up condo. It has a a small table, an easel, some bookshelves, that's it. It makes me focus on what I'm doing I suppose. It has a radio, and I know I need a break when I start talking back to the other callers on NPR.

Oil on canvas
18" x 18"

Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it? 
I am an active member of the Copley Society of Art. Being a member there has been a career-changing experience. Their support for me led to my being accepted at the galleries that now allow me to make my living as an artist. I have met so many great Boston working artists there. I sound like I have a CoSo tattoo, but I feel very strongly that their organization has been vital for me as well as so many Boston art students, professional artists, and the arts community as a whole.
    My artist friends have taught me that there are as many ways of constructing a successful career in the arts as there are artists. You'd be surprised by how many flourishing artists are there are that are not following the blockbuster New York gallery show model. They are selling affordable work, being prolific, being good business people and finding a wide variety of commercial avenues for their work. Some make a great living via their open studios, teaching classes, websites, offering prints, blogs, auctions, and other alternative models.

Heron Pond
Oil and silver leaf on canvas
3 (24" x 48")

Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this? 

I go through phases of feeling very confined by my own tendency toward repetition. I have a secret desire to paint like Joan Mitchell, stay up late, drink too much whiskey, smoke like a fiend, and slather paint on 12-foot wide canvases with a 5-inch brush. But I am more the "get up early, go for a long run, eat organic, and paint pretty birds" kind of person. One remedy always seems to be found by going back to my sketchbook. I spend more time sketching, and then by looking at the sketches, I connect more immediately with those moments when I felt the passionate desire to create an image, and it helps me get some mojo back into my painting. Thor Hansen said in his book Feathers, "If I'm not intrigued and excited every time I step outside, it just means I'm not paying attention." So when things get stuck, I try to remind myself to pay attention.

Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice? 
I certainly have a ton of bad habits, such as not putting enough paint out, or using the same crappy brush too long, or sitting down when I should be standing up. It's harder to pinpoint the habits that help. I have a lot of different pieces going on at the same time, and I like to think that shuttling between them is useful. I'm also really stubborn about trying to fix paintings that aren't working, rather than throwing them out. It may occasionally be a futile effort, but the feeling of reward that comes from rescuing an idea is great. 

As far as good business habits, I think that it has been helpful to keep good records and have good Photoshop skills. Both help when gallery people call with crazy last-minute requests. Being prepared with jpgs means being able to take advantage of a lot of opportunities.

Do you have other jobs other than making art? If so, please give us some details.
I am a part-time book designer for Pearson, designing High School science curriculum materials. It creates a nice balance between being alone in the studio with no pressures and being social and structured in a huge multi-national corporation.

You can see more of Ellen's work on her website.
My next big show will be in July 2012 at the Maine Art Gallery, in Kennebunkport Maine.
Thank you Ellen!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember that VW van. Don't let Ellen fool you, she was always a great artist. She used to earn beer money in college painting designs / logos for boats. Great to see her work plastered on display in every bookstore(The Help).

An old friend.