Project Gallery

Darrel Ellis

Family Distortions

October 17 - November 29, 2003

The Julie Saul Gallery is pleased to announce our first exhibition of selected works from the estate of Darrel Ellis. Ellis was a young and gifted New York artist of color who worked in photography, painting and sculptural forms- his life was cut short at the age of 33 by AIDS. For those who have followed the contemporary art and photography scene in New York for the last decade or more, the name Darrel Ellis is familiar. He first received major public exposure in 1992 with his inclusion in New Photography 8 at The Museum of Modern Art, curated by Peter Galassi, which occurred one year after his first solo show at the gallery Baron/Boisante on 57th St. The MoMA show took place several months after Ellis' death in 1992. A major retrospective of Ellis' work was mounted in 1997 at Art in General, curated by the artist Allan Frame, Ellis's friend and later executor of his estate. The show was circulated to five American art museums. Darrel Ellis' work has not been publically exhibited since the tour ended in 1999.

Ellis had a complicated family history which he thematically and physically took as the subject of his work after his mother introduced him to the family pictures in 1983. His father Thomas Ellis, a postal worker, died a month before Darrel's birth in a violent, accidental conflict with the Harlem police, leaving behind a trove of family photographs that he had made during a career which included work as a professional photographer. These photographs depict a world and a family history which Ellis could only reconstruct through his imagination. They represent a carefree 1950s middle-class world of life in Harlem and the Bronx- primarily portraits of Ellis's mother and sisters, family parties, street scenes, etc. Ellis used these photographs as the basis for paintings, drawings and photographs that manipulate the imagery through projections on to plaster sculptural reliefs which are then rephotographed and often translated into representational paintings.

Having grown up as a talented, gay, fatherless black man in the struggling urban environment of Harlem and the Bronx, Ellis used his family history as both a life raft and experimental arena. The results are often gritty and emotional, beautiful and raw.

The MoMA show elicited a major response from the press- The New Yorker review states "it's wonderful to see the imagery of Darrel Ellis getting its dueÙEllis clearly was a photographer who had plenty to tell us about his life as a young-African-American." The New York Times review is illustrated with Ellis's work and Chuck Hagen wrote "Darrel Ellis' photographs are a real discoveryÙ.These pictures offer deeply moving metaphors for the distorting processes of memory, as well as for the emotional strains and deformations suffered by many black families."

The Art in General exhibition in 1996/97 gained immediate attention in the New York press. Four years after the MoMA group show which included only photographs, this survey of seventy works - paintings, photographs and drawing- introduced a new generation to Ellis. David Ebony said in his New York "Top Ten": "In his work, Ellis has turned tragedy into triumph and today, in certain circles, he is nothing short of a super hero. His art reveals a struggle that is deeply personal, but also reflects the struggle of the entire African American communityÙthis retrospective will be talked about for a long time to come.

Feature articles and reviews appeared in The Village Voice, New York Magazine, Artforum, Art in America and The New York Times, as well as extensive coverage on the tour in Birmingham, Alabama, Miami, and Northridge, California.

The selection of work to be included in the exhibition here will all focus on the family theme and will include paintings, drawings and photographs. It is our hope that yet a new generation will become familiar with the loving, raw and powerful legacy of Darrel Ellis.

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