Ellen's work transcends, even defies categorization. Obsessive, ritualistic, literary, witty, and often whimsical, it is by turns morbid and exuberant, a celebration of nature and of artifice. It is a fusion of techniques traditionally found in fashion and crafts with the materials and techniques of "fine art." With the grid as her underpinning compositional device, she reconciles her love of extravagance, fantasy, and spectacle with a strict design sense rooted very much in modernism.

To enter into one of Ellen's compositions is to enter a veritable microcosm of unexpected delights and mind-boggling details. Her works are often fantastical — shimmering with light and air, glittering with fields of miniscule beads, festooned with baubles, various treasures, and gewgaws — all laid out on those elaborate grids of meticulously placed color. Indeed, the range of media employed in her paintings is dizzying: acrylic paint, colored pencil, powdered pigment, gold or silver leaf, enamel (nail polish), perforations (done individually by hand), quilled paper, ribbon and trim, buttons, beads, pearls, cameos, rhinestones, sequins, embroidery, paper ephemera (found and/or constructed), vintage cigarette cards, postage stamps, metal findings, silver gimp, tinsel, balsa, fimo clay, plastic flowers, phototransfers, wire, beetle wings, mirrors, microscope slides, and threads of mylar, nylon, silk, rayon, and metal.

With all this, Ellen gives us a vanitas for the 21st century; the seductive treatment of the surface fills our eyes with that which is ever so lush and pleasurable, making us marvel at her technical virtuosity and cleverness. At the same time, beneath the scintillating surface of that post-paradisiacal cross-stitch, that eerily celestial circuit board, an image such as a flower in bloom or a tree bleak in its leafless state serves to remind us that all is transitory. Therein lies the tension: vita brevis, ars longa.
An air of the elegiac haunts many of her works - often enhanced by the vintage found objects, the selected quotes of poetry, and even the antiquated quality of the vellum itself. Certainly the persistent theme of the seasons themselves — of the cycles of birth and death in nature whose ceaseless rhythms overwhelm the brief life span of an individual — speak to us of loss, but also of the hope of hope and the power of remembrance.

Marcie J. Inman

Read the essay by Janet S. Tyson

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