PAINTINGS and ETCHINGS
By Eddi Rodney
FOR an entire ‘generation’ of Guyanese artists, especially women painters, Merlene Ellis has become almost perennial. This trait may well have resulted form her original ‘experiments’ whilst a secondary school student; creative activities that gained her a GCE ‘O’ level in Art during the early to mid 1980s.
One recalls her drawings over the years as reflective and addressing a range of social issues involving groups of people (`Boat Builders’, `Truck Man At Bourda’, `Searching for Shells’ and `Three Fishermen’ amongst others..), and revealing for the benefit of the observer, “outdoor” scenes indigenous to the Guyanese sensibility.
Important Still Life Technique and Drawing Style
Since the latter part of March this year, Castellani House has exhibited `Ellis 2006: recent paintings by Merlene Ellis’. This collection of artwork is part of the National Gallery’s project ‘Celebrating Outstanding Women in the Visual Arts.’
Elsewhere in this column, I have commented on Ellis’s still life interpretations. Particularly those illustrative of edible vegetables and root crops (eddoes, onions, breadfruit, plantains and cassava tubers etc). Actually working on this approach and direction, Ellis (`Pickle Onions’, `Metagee’ and `Breadfruit’ as well as `Water Jug with Mangoes and Star Apples’) has a most distinctive idealism which must be categorised as an important technique and stylistic in terms of drawing as art. If we consider that all these ‘forms’ of edible vegetable and varieties of fruit are perishables, Merlene Ellis practically demonstrates a significant primary production (both subsistence and cash crop) aspect of local survival.
To the extent therefore, that this ‘formulation’ remains idealist then likewise, what emerges from the acrylic and canvas as well as water colours, is a semblance of art nouveau – if we like in Creole perspective.
Functional and Fund-Raising Art Efforts
Merlene’s evolution from the 1990s when her work with the Creative Arts Association (CAA) was panelled at Castellani and she did other projects including her first solo exhibition at the Hadfield Gallery, has established her as a major artist and art prize award winner (1999, 2001, 2002). Her participation in the activities of the Guyana Women Artists’ Association (GWAA) has enabled her to reproduce to a specific demand for culture.
As Elfrieda Bissember observes:
“With an adventurous and independent spirit she has mapped her own career, on a unique path, yet has achieved notable success. She has become a leading and prominent Guyanese artist, exhibiting with the GWAA, yet with a solo career that has won her competition prizes, representation of her country abroad, and inclusion in numerous private collections, in institutional collections and the National Collection of Guyana. Her works have similarly become among the most prized items at leading fundraising auctions in the country,” (March, 2006)
Viewing `Ellis 2006’ I realised that her `Impression of Essequibo River’, `Kurupung River’, `Regent Street’, `A Slice of Itiribisi’, `Body Form’ and `Library Chair’ (all Acrylic on Canvas) together with `Brethren’, `Sisteren’, `Paper and Age’, `In Bed’, `Body Form’ and `Bougainvillean and Wine’ (Watercolours on Paper), had been sold at prices ranging from $90,000 to $25,000. It means therefore, that Merlene Ellis has developed into a popular art figure with charisma and “culture wisdom” (Nettleford 2001).
The intriguing oil painting, `Military Man’ is set aside for the artist’s own collection. This portrait is that of the post 9/11 art genre in Jamaica reggae styling: where top artistes such as the veteran Laurie Aitken and even `Sizzla’ don performance costumes modelled on the military uniform of Ethiopian Generals (even in the process proclaiming the virtues of Haile Selassie).
This artwork can be described as a `Kyaan Done’ influenced, neo- Boogie representational drawing transformed into a canvas item. Her `Paper and Age’ on the other hand, is a Watercolour on Paper where the book catalogue is vested with, or “blessed” as the “source”. Both of these together with `Full Moon’ sort of bring out the influence of George Simon and certainly in places, Stanley Greaves and ER Burrowes.