In an exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to sit down with esteemed artist Ellen Ball, who has been crafting a remarkable body of work since 1994, drawing inspiration from the city's vibrant tapestry of pop culture. With a background in graphic design and illustration, Ellen's large-scale mixed media painting serve as a testament to her unique creative journey.
We’re such huge fans of your work over at ONE33 Social. When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
My grandmother was an artist and a trained architect, and an eccentric creative force in my life. I was always drawing and coloring from a young age. When I was 9 or 10 years old she bought me my first paint set, complete with really good quality brushes (brushes are important!). I remember coveting it, not even wanting to use it I loved it so much. I started painting then and haven’t stopped. I even took those brushes with me to college. I also had an amazing art teacher at my public school in upstate New York. He really encouraged me and I learned so much from him; I knew then I wanted to study art in college.
Can you share some visuals of your artwork for those who are not in the know?
How did you get your start in the art world?
When I graduated with a BA in studio art, I really wanted to use my degree and be an artist, but I just didn’t know how. I worked at a gallery in college and ruled that out as “not for me.” My father encouraged me to work in advertising, so I did, but not on the creative side. Then I worked at Radio City Music Hall, but on the marketing side. All I wanted to do was be in the art room at both jobs. I hung out with the graphics department and decided to go back to school at Parsons School of Design for Graphic Design. I worked as a commercial artist for the next 10 years, finding a niche in creative services and packaging design for the beauty industry; which has really informed my work.I also illustrated for Crane’s stationary for about 10 years, which I would have done for the free stationary, for which I have a weakness. I loved doing those line drawings and working collaboratively with my “art director” at Crane’s.Then when I had kids, I could not keep up with my clients, so I went back to fine art, as it was deadline free. And that's where I knew I had to be. I was so happy to be in the studio, making work, being creative, and having my own little world to escape to. It took a long time and lots of years of just making work and trying to get a body of work together. But once I did, and after lots of group shows and amazing educators along the way, I had a solo show with the help of two amazing women gallerists (LOOC ART, Claire Johnston and Lara McLanahan), and off we went. It was a huge success and I’ve been building off of that ever since.
How would you describe your artistic style? How does that compare or contrast with your personal sense of style?
Ever since college, I have had an interest in “beauty” and how it either entraps or empowers women. It’s a subject that I keep coming back to in my work. I loved makeup, clothes, fashion, and also faces, bodies, portraiture, drawing, painting, pop art, the work of Andy Warhol etc., and how it all intersects. I have always loved album covers, and graphic design, and glossy magazines, and feel that my work is very much inspired by “pop culture” and the world we are living in. I often use found imagery as inspiration, commenting on the barrage of images, photographs etc in our world today. I like to appropriate them, make something new from them, cut and collage, and use them to make a new statement. Why are iconic figures iconic? Are we idealizing them? Are we worshiping a certain standard? Does this go back to religious figures, idols, alters, seeing ourselves in what we are gazing at.... I want my art, as well as maybe an outfit I pull together, to be interesting, evocative, possibly nostalgic. I just like the creative process, seeing things and making them anew. I love to cook as well, and find it is similarly a very fulfilling “create something new with the ingredients at hand” process. Art, food, and even fashion nourishes us, allows for expression, and interaction with others. It’s sharing a bit of yourself with the world.
What inspires you when starting a new piece of work?
I generally start with a theme, or concept and try and make a body of work inspired by that theme. Then I research images, and open my eyes to everything around me until I find images that resonate, images, patterns, photos, colors that I feel will make for a good painting.
I have files and files of tear sheets, pictures, things I find and that strike me so I save them for the future. Often I will thumb through those images and find something that jumps out at me anew, and a new painting is born.
How do you know when a piece is finished? And approximately how long does each piece take from start to finish?
My work is often collaged or edited and mapped out before I even start it. In other words I know the composition, the size, the elements that I want to go into it. I often work with photo-transfers, which is a multistep process that takes days to accomplish just the transfer process. So once I know what the pieces of the painting are going to be, I have to get a canvas custom made, print the images and patterns I want to transfer, possibly do some cutting or drawing beforehand, and then I start on the work. I am really interested in the “process” too, and what cool things can happen when you approach a work with new mediums and experiment with different techniques. There are provident imperfections that happen, or unexpected elements that emerge. Or I might discover something that the painting needed that I didn’t plan out in advance (like carpet or wallpaper or gemstones!). I tend to over-work my pieces, so my dear friend and former studio-mate, Holly Cunningham, an amazing artist herself, was always a great sounding board. She would tell me to STOP! So it can take weeks. But, if it’s purely a painting or drawing, I see a lot of value in working in one pass. Doing a whole painting, once planned out, in a day. So weeks, or just one day! How about that for a non-answer?
Most of your artwork deals with themes of femininity and womanhood. How does your own identity and lived experience influence your art?
I think that’s one of the questions of our time: beauty, feminism and how to navigate in a world of mixed messages. How do women navigate a barrage of conflicting messages: about their worth, their femininity, their rights, their feminism, their equality, strength, power, how to manage family, career, balance it all and with grace, gratitude and respect. It’s complicated! And I’m infinitely fascinated by these subjects and stories. I am one of three girls raised by a single working mother. I come from a long line of gracious, yet assertive and independent women, who managed to balance it all beautifully.
As an artist, which can be understandably all-consuming at times of inspiration, how do you balance your family, kids, self-care, etc?
It is really hard, to be honest! Being an artist is self directed, you have to be disciplined and find structure and routine. There are obvious perks to making my own schedule: going on kid's field trips, walking my dog, sneaking in a yoga class. The downside is that I am often my own last priority. Kids, husband, house, dogs, meals.... All need my attention too. I could spend all day coordinating my 3 kids sports schedules. Artists are master procrastinators (it’s supposedly great for the creative process!). So when I have a show coming up or any kind of deadline, I’m locked in. And I have THE MOST SUPPORTIVE husband and family. They are so respectful, encouraging and supportive. They pull their own weight when I have to dial it back at home and dial it up at work. That's the only way it happens. I’m so grateful for my supportive friends, family and community. Everyone shows up for me when I need it and that’s been the ticket for me (thank you to all my peeps!).
Who are some female artists, contemporary or otherwise, that you admire?
I love Marilyn Minter, Mickalene Thomas, Rachel Evans-Wood, Barbara Kruger and artist friends Rachel Feinstein and Jacquline Humphries. Gosh so many more! I love to go look at contemporary art, I find it infinitenly inspiring! I have to shout out to Dorothea Basile , who has been taking me to see art for 15 years, and has opened my eyes to a million different new artists. She knows EVERYTHING about the contemporary art world and is brilliant at looking at, understanding and appreciating art. I have learned so much from her, and am always getting new ideas from what I see in the galleries and museums.
Who would be your number one dream dinner guest – could be dead or alive?
The Dalai Lama. I would love to be in His presence; his radiant joy and love is said to be astounding. Who doesn’t want some more of that in their life?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career as an artist?
Working in the arts, however you can, is a great gateway. Maybe a gallery, teaching, or working as an artist’s assistant. To witness how another artist works and watch their process; there is literally nothing more interesting to me! Get great instruction in school or classes, keeping yourself in the game, and working, painting, making art ALL THE TIME! Even if you can't afford to be a full time artist, keep at it! It’s like going to the gym, you need to keep in shape. I also can’t NOT make art. I get itchy when it’s been too long. Notice if you feel that same way. If you can’t NOT do it, then go for it. You’ll need that drive and passion to persist the very hard long road to success!
Please share any tips and tricks when getting ready for a fabulous night out.
As a rule, I would rather be over-dressed than underdressed. But strive to find the perfect outfit for the occasion: it should be flattering, comfortable and yet appropriate. I am a spontaneous person, so I like to have pieces in my wardrobe that I can pull out at the last minute and know they will work, and I’ll feel right in them. The pieces I’ve gotten from ONE33 Social fit that bill. They are super chic, flattering, and varied, and can work in so many different situations. I love a dress, it’s like a whole outfit in one and no coordination necessary. I can’t blow out my own hair so I’ve gotten really good at braiding or using a curling iron. So you’ll find me scrambling 10 minutes before I’m due out the door curling my hair, trying to pull it all together. Most importantly for me: ALWAYS amazing bold jewelry. My signature look: a beautiful gold necklace from my dear friend Beth Hutchins line, Foundrae. Paired with big statement earrings. Even if I’m walking the dog! And lastly– mascara! Wear make-up people! It’s such a fun freebee and another place to get creative!
Where can we find you and your art next so we can enjoy it IRL?
A few really exciting things are coming up for me this year. I have just signed with a fantastic, perfect gallery: J. Mackey Gallery based in East Hampton, NY, run by Justine McEnerney . We are planning a solo show, my first in the Hamptons, for next July 2024. It is amazing so have such a great partner in Justine and her team, and they have already done so much for me. So I'm busy working on that! Keep your eyes peeled! In the nearer future, I am part of a prestigious juried group show called the AD Art Show, which this year is held at the Powerhouse Arts building in Gowanus, Brooklyn. October 15-17. It’s an honor to be with such an amazing group of artists, and in a very cool location. In years past, the work has been displayed at the Oculus transportation hub in the World Trade Center. My website is newly designed, you can find me at www.ellenball.com My instagram is @elleball.art
And my studio (come visit me!) Is now in Port Chester, NY