Bob Ellis: The Endless Race
The theme of the carousel, or the merry-go-round, reoccurred in the work of artist and longtime Harwood Museum of Art friend and former Director Robert M. “Bob” Ellis (1922-2014) from the late 1940s through 2012.
Like many artists of his generation, Ellis was inspired by a stylistic convergence of Mexican culture and Surrealism, an early 20th-century art movement that sought to unlock the power of imagination by channeling the unconscious. While pursuing a BFA in Art in Mexico City (1948-1952), Ellis encountered the paintings and murals of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros - and subsequently produced paintings in that strong figurative tradition. Ellis’ departure from those influences, however, is marked by his series of paintings and drawings on the subject of the carousel. The work comprising that series – which spans the late 1940s through the last pieces produced between 2006 and 2012 - fuses the image of the carousel with Ellis’ childhood memories of the medieval armor collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Work from the carousel series integrates the formal characteristics of Cubism, which aims to represent subjects from multiple points of view. The carousel series is also influenced by Futurism, an early 20th century artistic and social movement that glorified themes associated with the future such as speed, technology, and vehicles such as cars and airplanes. Finally, Ellis was familiar with and inspired by Paul Verlaine’s 1872 poem Chevaux de Bois (Wooden Horses).
Ellis' fascination with the armor worn by medieval men and horses is reflected in several of the works included in this exhibition. In the late 1970s he painted a self-portrait with an actual carousel horse. That painting and the carousel horse are reunited in Bob Ellis: The Endless Race. The latest work in Ellis’ carousel series includes numerous large scale studies of carousels, and one finished painting on that theme.
Bob Ellis: The Endless Race is curated by Gus Foster and made possible through the support of Maryann Evans and Edwin Roos, and the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation.