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January 20 - April 21, 2002 at Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach

by Shirle Gottlieb

What words can describe the creative vision of Sharon Ellis? Over the past ten years, this incredible craftsman has produced dazzling landscapes, skyscapes, mindscapes, naturescapes (call them what you will) that have become more breathtaking and seductive with time.

Like Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Ellis' early work pays hommage to 19th-century romantic symbolism--a school of thought that was spiritual in content, while being sensual and ravishingly beautiful at the same time. Sanctum and Last Summer evoke the lush imagery of a Christina Rosetti poem, while Garden and Cathedral of Dandelions conjure dark mystery and magic.

Spiritual and sensual, natural and exotic, in these works life and death are expressed as exquisite agony and ecstasy. How does she do it? How does she get such immediate contradictory response to what is essentially imaginary, highly stylized, abstract landscape painting?

"The answer, dear Horatio, lies not in (the artist), but in ourselves." Somehow her gorgeous, beatified imagery strikes a nerve that makes a connection with humankind's neverending quest for the ideal. It's discursive, it's subliminal, it's as timeless as the search for answers to the human condition.

Some viewers see allusions to astrology, mythology, pantheism, and spiritualism (even Zorastrianism and psychedelic hallucination). Others see a highly skilled artist who is at the top of her form. In either case, Ellis obviously loves what she's doing, and the results of her ten-year body of work are completely captivating.

In 1994, Ellis began an exploration of climatic changes in nature. Surrounded by her glorious, translucent, jewel-toned impressions of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, viewers stand trance-like, as if in some mythic, fantasmagorical clearing of a forest turned cathedral, where light streams in through stained glass windows. A few years later (1997), she started studying the effect of light on different times of day. Unlike the rich orchestration of her Four Seasons series, the tone of Morning, Midday, and Night is tranquil, timeless, and reverential. In each of these paintings, Ellis has pared back her imagery to a grove of symmetrical trees silhouetted against the sky in various degrees of illumination.

As in haiku poetry, a simple image of nature is a powerful metaphor with meaning that goes beyond physical matter. Whether against the pale light of morning, the hazy light of noon, or star-studded, black velvet sky, trees are universal symbols for the essence of life itself.

Most recently, Ellis has returned to painting nature that is inspired by and evocative of her love for 19th- and early 20-century poetry. A single glance at the pulsating color in A Field of Yellow Daffodils (2000) informs viewers that this is a visual response to Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

Detractors argue that some of Ellis' paintings resemble Rorschach blots (Cathedral of Dandelions [1993]), X-ray technology (Winter [1994]), or computer-generated imagery (Mysterium [1996]), but I say "So what?" Nor do we require philosophical or theoretical justification to convince us that our strong visceral response to Ellis' singular vision is both valid and viable. One look at Lunarium (the full moon shining down on a field of blood-tinged, white lilies) is all it takes.

“Afternoon,” alkyd on
canvas, 40 x 30”, 1998.

“Cathedral of Dandelions,” alkyd
on canvas, 36 x 36”, 1993.

“Summer,” alkyd on
canvas, 28 x 40”, 1995.

“Lunarium,” alkyd on
canvas, 26 x 22”, 1996.