Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Birthday Party: Scott Daniel Ellison

[“Birch Trees” (2008), acrylic on canvas. “Haunted Houses” (2009), acrylic on canvas. “Mouth” (2009), acrylic on canvas.]

In his trademark faux-naïve style, Scott Daniel Ellison’s second solo show in New York City (and at ClampArt) expands upon his fascination with ragged animal life, horror film characters, and his own recurrent fears. On view at ClampArt through February 20, 2010, the small figurative works in “The Birthday Party” depict animals and people both as single and multiple figures.

Over the past two years, Ellison’s paintings generally have grown larger (up to 14 x 18 inches) and his macabre subject matter more entrenched. Inspired by Scandinavian folk art he admired while living in Sweden, along with obscure horror films, grisly tales, recurrent fears, and popular music (Ellison is also a recording artist), the darkly humorous works are sparse and enigmatic, suggesting but never completely offering extended narratives. Largely focused on animals Ellison has seen firsthand, his works offer a refuge to such quirky creatures as skunks, sloths, opossums, and ocelots. Yet, on occasion, one will find the stray vampire, werewolf, or hot young woman. His subjects’ diminutive nature give a sense of storybook illustrations on crack—that could have been taken from either “Friday the 13th” or the aftermath of a backyard raccoon raid.

Originally trained as a photographer at SUNY Purchase and the International Center for Photography, Ellison cites influential American photographers Diane Arbus (1923–1971) and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925–1972) as other major influences. This is apparent in Ellison’s earlier deadpan compositions of animal portraits as well as the obvious mood of many of his newer pieces. In Ellison’s work, one can easily see disturbing elements so reveled in by Meatyard, not to mention the haunting intrusions of “inner space” so elemental in Meatyard’s work. Not conforming to either the east coast’s “street photography” or the west coast’s romantic camera realism, Meatyard was too far ahead of his time: His images were populated with dolls, masks, family, friends, and neighbors in such settings as abandoned buildings or suburban backyards. The “photo boom” in which Meatyard and such colleagues as Henry Holmes Smith (1909-1986) and Harry Callahan (1912-1999) found themselves roughly paralleled the ferment and general upheaval of the civil rights and antiwar movements—not to mention the sexual revolution and counterculture.

Based in Beacon, New York, the artist has also shown his work at Carl Berg Projects (Los Angeles).

The Birthday Party: Scott Daniel Ellison
Through February 20, 2010
@ ClampArt Gallery
521-531 West 20th Street, NYC 10001

Scott Daniel Ellison Music on iTunes

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