ypically, however, her patterns are both more rigid and more handmade, and any associations with sacred architecture or textiles, rather than buoying the paintings up with transcendental energy, tend instead to anchor them in the busy-work of their construction. Two gouaches, for example, interweave negative and positive triangles into concentric oval bands, like a hooked rug, around an oval void. Again, Ellison rests her case on the pattern alone, and this one has its nuance and starry fascination –– even, perhaps, a narrative of memento mori in the vacated portrait niche at its center. But these modest devotional panels remain actual-size. Their repudiation of psychic sweat, rather than releasing the pattern to do its cosmic work, seems to take for granted that the decorative should lead to the visionary. As I suggested earlier, Ellison’s paintings can seem all too quotational: not only of tribal, folk, and religious arts, but of Mondrian, Reinhardt, and Frank Stella; of Agnes Martin, Myron Stout, and Bridget Riley; and most of all, of a generational embrace of “hypnotic geometry” –– Raphael Rubinstein’s description of the post-psychedelic Brooklyn-centric scene in which Ellison is well known. (Rubenstein’s phrase comes from a brochure text written for Ellison, to which I also contributed.)
At McKenzie, however, Ellison’s paintings can be seen in context as healing balms of meditative objectivity, counterbalances to the blazing obsession of her drawings. The careful craft of her small, luminous gouaches redirects the drawings’ arrested teenage alienation onto higher planes–planes to which Ellison aspires with all the dogmatic fervor of the self-taught convert. Ellison’s knowingness, in other words, is the exact opposite of Insider sophistication. If the paintings presume too much, it is from a rare, authentic mixture of erudition, innocence, and deep hunger.
female artistpatterngouache on wood panel11 x 8 ½ in