Galleries : Realism At North Water Gallery
Eighty-eight-year-old artist Ray Ellis could rest on his well-earned laurels. Instead, he joins two other Vineyard realist painters, Jonathan Ralston and Jeanne Staples, in a new exhibit at Edgartown's North Water Gallery that opens today. Mr. Ellis will be showing 17 new landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes.
The accomplished Mr. Ellis has earned his living as a painter for more than 40 years, has illustrated Christmas cards for the White House, published 15 books - some in collaboration with former television journalist Walter Cronkite, and is in collections worldwide.
Mr. Ellis's association with North Water Gallery (owned and operated by Chris and Sheila Morse along with The Granary Gallery at the Red Barn and Field Gallery in West Tisbury) represents a change after his 35-year affiliation with the Edgartown Art Gallery.
"I thought I needed a change," says Mr. Ellis, who calls Edgartown home for most of the year. "It also gives me access to The Granary Gallery, and more exposure. I suppose it's a grand finale. At my age I don't really have to prove anything. The pressure's off. It's a wonderful way to work. I feel I'm painting even better, and I haven't really slowed down."
His most recent book, "By the Light of the Moon," includes 93 color reproductions, and he calls it the most beautiful one he's done yet. A new publication on his life as an artist is in the works. Each chapter will contain an era and will be illustrated with paintings from that era. After that, he is thinking about a book that might be called "The Spirit of Sport."
Born in Philadelphia and trained at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, Mr. Ellis began a career in advertising and public relations, painting when he had time. He is unselfconsciously candid in admitting that in 1980, he was flat broke.
He and his third wife, Teddie, moved into their Edgartown house a year after their marriage. In 1986, a family-room style studio was built over the garage, and, five years ago, an addition enlarged the main house. An in-ground swimming pool near his studio keeps Teddie and him fit.
Photo by Nis Kildegaard
Mr. Ellis also maintains a gallery in Savannah, Ga., where he lived before moving to the Island, as well as Compass Prints, Inc., which sells prints of his work.
And all of it, the property and all the trimmings, is the result of the sales of his art - a fact that clearly makes him proud.
In addition to his painting supplies, Mr. Ellis's studio contains the memorabilia of a collector: model cars, toy soldiers, a piece of wood from Winslow Homer's studio, a photo of the painter with Ted Williams.
There are few Ellis paintings displayed in the studio. A handsome painting of a squarerigger by the early 20th-century artist Frank Vining Smith commands wall space not far from his easel - he traded one of his paintings for it - and an unfinished portrait of Teddie he started several years ago leans against the wall. He has done only four or five portraits, but rather than people, he prefers the Edgartown harbor, the lighthouse, ferries, and catboats as his subjects.
"Now I love to get up-Island. It's inspiring," he says, as his latest canvasses bear that out. Mr. Ellis's new work will include paintings of the view at the Allen Farm in Chilmark and scenes at Seven Gates Farm and other rural spots.
Mr. Ellis's latest paintings reflect his sophisticated approach to composition and color. A vase of summer flowers stands next to a black, white, and brown duck decoy on a highly reflective wooden table. Taking equal precedence behind these objects is a white-paned window filled with a field, the ocean, and blue sky.
Today, August 7, it will join the landscapes and buildings of Jeanne Staples, an artist who enjoys exploring Vineyard time and light from multiple perspectives, and the architectural paintings of Jonathan Ralston, inspired by buildings in France and Italy. The three will provide the public with very different and complementary dimensions of realist painting.
The show opens today, Thursday, August 7, with a reception from 5 to 7 pm at North Water Gallery, 27 North Water St., Edgartown. 508-627-6002.
Brooks Robards regularly reviews art, books, films, and entertainmnet for The Times.