We were lucky to catch up with Carolyn Ellis recently and have shared our conversation below.
Carolyn , looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Can you tell us what surprised you most when you first started painting?
When I got into abstract painting in 2012, I was 62. At the time I thought that abstract painting looked like something that would be fun, give me something to do, and, who knows, maybe even bring in a little money.
In no way did I figure that painting would turn into an interior journey that would change who I am, lead to my engaging in life way beyond the narrow little world I had inhabited for so many decades, and end up opening doors to a level of creativity and insight that, even ten years down the road, totally astound me.
From day one painting got me into thinking as deeply as I could about making abstract art: What is abstract art, is it possible that it’s little more than a sophisticated con job extracting money from people for what amounts to blobs of paint, does my artwork have any meaning/value, what are my goals, am I wasting my time and money painting when I sell so little…?
On a daily basis I continue to grapple with questions about art which keep leading me to the most amazing insights: the idea of making abstract art being an essentially spiritual practice very much akin to prayer, an unending adventure/ experiment, free verse in color, a truce with reality, … A recent insight – I would call it a revelation – is that I am not the master of my adventure into art at all. I am the student – with so much yet to experience and learn!
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
From 2002 to 2018, we lived on 26 acres in rural Texas, outside a town of 1,000. Being from Washington, DC, this was not a move I chose or desired and yet I think I gained more from the peace, quiet and beauty of that experience than anyone in our family!
For 16 years out there in the middle of nowhere I devoted most of my time to raising/ homeschooling our children, cooking/cleaning, etc. To survive so much isolation I was essentially forced to recover interior resources from my past which had been neglected for years due to the crush of family life. Freelance writing, playing the piano, guitar, writing songs, listening to opera, writing poetry, paperfolding …, all eventually came back into my life.
In 2012, by which time our two youngest were teens, I returned to painting, something I hadn’t done in over 30 years – so long ago I had forgotten that I ever painted. To my total shock, from my first paintings in 2012, fireworks went off inside of me. I recognized right away I wasn’t recovering a hobby; I had discovered a passion I didnt even know was there.
As for clients, fans, sales, brand…, my focus has always been on painting and creating – period. While I use social media a lot, I look at it largely as a way to document what I’m doing. Now painting and creating from my home studio in Dallas, I call myself the happiest person in the world!
What do you think is the goal or mission that drives your creative journey?
The fire in my belly that drives me forward in my art journey is my zeal for truth – the truth of who I am, of who we all are, the truth of life itself.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
I was raised at the altar of common sense. Growing up in my family if something didn’t meet the requirements of common sense then it was just plain stupid.
As an artist I have entirely replaced common sense with fearless boldness. Fail harder is my motto! Defining success as the privilege of being able to do what I love has completely annihilated fear of failure. Realizing that taking risks is simply a part of growing and developing has been a life changer.
At 73, I credit feeling like I’m just being born not to common sense or sound thinking but to the excitement and adventure of my life as an abstract artist. O the joy!
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I took all pics.