Ellen Few Anderson
Ellen Few Anderson is an abstract artist living and painting in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, retired from thirty years of teaching painting and art history.
The abstract paintings in this series depict the essence of what I see from my house and studio in Westport, NY. They represent the paring down of layers and the elimination of recognizable objects and distracting details, to leave what to me seems the clearest expression of the atmosphere, - in a structure of broad bands of color. The actual process of painting involves quickly applied layers of thick paint, sometimes leaving visible only a residual glow, sometimes more obvious streaks of color; very textured brushstrokes and sections of color that stretch from one side of the surface to the other, sometimes separated by edges of black non-color.
Before I was nineteen years old, I had lived in five different countries. When I was five, my family moved from Massachusetts to Tokyo, Japan. I have vivid memories of quiet interiors, with glowing natural wood, white shoji (paper sliding doors) and calm green gardens with gray stones visible through glass windows or open doors.
When I started painting my current series of abstractions on long narrow vertical canvases, I was conscious of my interest in doors as beginnings and endings, and the views through partly open doors as glimpses into the future or past. But only well into the series did I think of the obvious references also to the shape of Japanese scrolls, and to their content: natural scenes including mountains, water, branches, clouds and sky; and elegant dramatic calligraphy.
Now I see numerous influences in the underlying textures of multiple layers of paint, which often have a calligraphic look, the softened light created by the shoji, the subject matter of calm vistas of lake, meadows, mountains, always almost overwhelmed by sky and clouds and the differing lights of times of day, seasons and weather.
Each painting appears to be a quick abstracted impression, a sort of non-verbal Haiku ("a brief Japanese poem expressing a single mood or emotion; a common sight experienced in a new way; using seasonal words and images...")
Added to these influences is my sense of the history of this place, Westport, New York, the home of my great-great-grandparents, who looked at these same views in the 1800’s, and later my great-grandparents and grandparents and more recently my mother, from whom I learned to love Westport, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks, as we spent summer after summer here.
At times a painting seems to represent a specific ancestor: my adventurous great-great uncle who brought back Eskimo artifacts from the far North; my great-great grandmother whose warmth and liveliness centered the vast extended family at the hearth of Stonysides, the 168-year-old house designed by my great-great grandfather, set in the gardens he planned.
Near that house, I paint in the house I designed (with references to Stonysides) and my surrounding gardens, in their beginning stages attempting to reflect some of the colors and plant combinations of my grandfather's. Beyond these immediate plantings stretch the same hills, meadows and mountains that my ancestors chose to live in, just as I did.
As I was growing up, my family moved from one beautiful and intriguing place to another, from Tokyo to northern Japan, where our back yard leaned out over a rushing river; to Dusseldorf, Germany, our house near the Rhine River; to Italy - Rome - for 6 years, the Tiber River, the Mediterranean, the golden light on the hills, the saturated history; then to Malaysia, with its long white beaches, green jungles, brilliant blue sky and lush flowers. Since then, traveling in such diverse areas as China, Scotland, Umbria, Le Marche, Montana, Wyoming, I've been enchanted with the light, the colors, the layers of atmosphere and history. But all my life, in between, I've come home to Westport.
Now living in Westport year-round, I can soak up the atmosphere, seeing changes of light, mist, expanses of sky and water, as I bask in the outdoors, hiking, paddling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
I taught painting and art history for 30 years, mostly at St.Mary’s College, in Raleigh, NC. After teaching many students how to paint (including representation), I've found that now for my own painting, I'm drawn to the infinite possibilities of abstraction.
At Duke University I majored in painting and art history, and also studied poetry, music, philosophy, and aesthetics, all of which have influenced my painting. Before college, travelling internationally with my culturally very well-educated parents, I received a strong grounding in the arts. (My mother was an art historian and my father a US Embassy cultural attache' and head of the Fullbright Commission.) I talked with artists, went to their studios and exhibits, and spent endless hours in art museums, international art centers, and in lengthy discussions of art, music, art history, etc.
In my paintings, the horizontals seem to express the eternal calm and quiet of nature, although slightly contradicted by the quick brushstrokes with accidental ragged edges. The underlying staccato rhythm of textured irregular verticals is an almost calligraphic expression of individual histories, stories, growth and movement, catching the paint like grasses in a stream catching the water as it passes. The delicate balance of different widths of the bands of color - some broad swaths, others almost just slender lines – seems to me to express the rhythm and progression of time and history while also reflecting the natural patterns of water, meadow, mountains and sky in the Adirondacks.
School of Design, North Carolina State University, Master of Visual Design, 1982 Phi Kappa Phi
Duke University, BA Art Studio/
Art History (1969)
Rome, Italy, Overseas International School of Rome (1959-1965)
Japan (1952-55), Germany (1956-58), Malaysia (summers 1966, 1967)
St. Mary's College, Raleigh, NC (1980 - 1997); Associate Professor, Painting, Drawing, Art History; Chair, Dept. of Art; Chair, Division of Fine Arts (1994 - 1997)
taught painting in home studio (1977-1980);
renovated old house while living in it;
*son, Matthew McCutchen Anderson born 2/14/1977,
*daughter, Laura Few Anderson
Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC, Chair, Art Department (1971-1976)
Durham City Public Schools, Art (1969 - 1971)