The Genius of Ted Ellis
New Orleans native deserves exhibit in national museum
There needs to be something shared worldwide about the works of Ted Ellis, New Orleans-born visual artist. He uses the stroke of his brush on canvas to present again the scenes, emotions, and story of the lives of the most beautiful Americans. From a scene of Baptist children wading in murky waters, donning white robes, scarfs, headscarfs and struggling under the grip of an elderly man’s hand as they head to the minister whose hand is raised clutching a white handkerchief to a canvas donning the sideview of a tiny girl bowing a violin with her eyes half opened and her spirit wrapped into her own sound.
Ellis captivates art critics who have called his work “genius.”
“Ellis creates much more than images. He creates a mood…an atmosphere…and an awareness that one is actually on the scene…in the scene,” write curators at The Sylvan Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina.
He memorizes the novice who stands enthralled at his Houston studio full of emotions of connectedness to the eyes of an elderly man with African features but whose face is full of blues, greens, purples, and crimson. “He’s the Colored Man,” Ellis said. That’s understood by all the colors beaming from the 3-foot-by-6-foot canvas, but it is also understood by his eyes. So much like the great grandfather on the porch or the old man sweeping away dirt outside the Alabama country store. Ellis’ hand, his eye, his imagination grabs it all and delivers it in his work—work that he says he was born to do. His work—his life’s work is apparent: to create the artistic account of history.
“I was put here to record history—all aspects of American culture and heritage. My sole purpose has always been to educate through my art,” he said. With each piece, he makes it a point to leverage the importance of visual literacy and preservation of culture and history.
Ellis said one goal was—and is—for him to to be a cultural, artistic historian. And he has done so for 30 years. His work has been commissioned by Walt Disney Studios, United Negro College Fund, Avon, the City of Selma, Alabama, Arts Council of New Orleans, and United Way.
Although it doesn’t hang there now, a following of curators and supporters are petitioning the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to establish a Ted Ellis collection within the museum. His work has hung in the Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center, the Russell Rotunda of the Richard Russell U.S. Senate Building, and appears in the movie “Almost Christmas.”
“I paint subjects that are representative of the many faces of American life as I know it,” Ellis said.
A self-taught artist, Ellis has published a limited edition collection of his work, Pride, Dignity and Courage: A Survey of Art of Ted Ellis, and a collective calendar. His blend of realism and impressionism captures glory of a rich American heritage. His business, T. Ellis Art, has sold more than 10 million prints and posters from his Houston, Texas studio.
“This is a culture business and my culture is priceless.”
Ellis, who is a former chemist, said his work is designed to “build you up consciously and subconsciously of yourself by speaking to your importance everyday.” And he has done so repeatedly and remarkably.
Since he began in 1996, Ellis has since become, by many accounts, an artistic historian. In 2005 he captured the Deltas 100th year commemoration, the Obamas in 2008, and the Juneteenth 150th year commemoration in 2015. These are the pieces, he said, would be some of the first offered to the museum as they archive the most critical bends in Black life of this century.
Ellis has amassed an impressive body of work, remarkably over the years. He has also established a platform and mechanism for other artist that will give them value.
“I am giving medicine—a dose of cultural nutrition,” he said.
By Candace J. Semien
Jozef Syndicate reporter