Robert C. Ellis: Minimalist Works From the 70s

Page 1

ROBERT C. ELLIS (1923 - 1979)


1335 Gusdorf Rd. Suite i. Taos. NM 575.751.1262
Installation left to right: Sprinkler System, White Island, Isole #5

ROBERT C. ELLIS (1923-1979)




ROBERT C. ELLIS (1923-1979)

Portrait of the artist published by The Mexican North American Institute of Cultural Relations for an exhibition catalogue in 1968


203 Fine Art is pleased to present minimalist artworks by Robert C. Ellis (1939-1979) from the 1970s. Featuring a fine selection of paintings and drawings within the artist’s mature style. Ellis spent his last decade exploring the interplay of nature in simple forms, arriving at a series of artworks with calm compositions suspended in time.

The paintings and works on paper included in this exhibition, from the Spain, Volcano, Torre Real, and Isole series, are influenced by the artist’s travels and were hand-selected directly from the artist’s estate. These are some of the final creations made by the artist before his sudden death in 1979, which cut short the artist’s oeuvre.

Born in Union Point, Texas, in 1923, Robert C. Ellis (R.C. Ellis) first began studying art through the University of New Mexico, Taos, at their Summer Field School in 1942. It was here that Ellis would meet one of his most important professors, nationally-known American Modernist Andrew Dasburg, becoming close friends soon after. Ellis’ studies, however, were quickly interrupted by the Second World War, where he served in the US Coast Guard Corps, eventually being discharged in 1946. Ellis returned to finish his studies at the University of New Mexico,  receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in June 1950. He continued on to the New School for Social Research in New York, where artists like Adja Yunkers, an Albuquerque Modern, would be one of his teachers.

While Ellis spent his time studying in formal institutions, it was the artist’s experience living with the Tarahumara Indians of the Sierra Madre, Mexico, that carried the most profound influence over the artist’s career.

Exhibiting at Mexico’s fine art institutions, such as Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Ellis was the only artist of the Taos Moderns to pursue a career on both sides of the border. After two fellowships at the Wurlitzer Foundation in the 1960s, Ellis settled permanently in Taos, New Mexico.

Left: Detail of Spain No. Seven, c. 1970s 16 x 14”, graphite on paper Phasm #4, 1978 62 x 68”, oil and graphite on linen

R.C. Ellis began his artistic career as a representational artist, demonstrated in his 1940s portrait drawings of American Indians and historical landmarks of Taos, NM. However, his time with the Tarahumara Indians, and within Mexico’s mid-century art scene in general, pulled him towards a more surrealist style. In the 1950s, Ellis experimented heavily with luminosity and abstracted spiritual figures amongst landscape paintings resembling that of stained glass. These themes and aesthetic choices from the artist’s earlier career subtly appear in select 1970s artworks from this collection, such as the developed painting Phasm #4, 1978.

Compared to the works Ellis produced in his earlier career, these 1970s pieces present as a refined minimalism. However, a sense of spirituality remains in the floating spheres unified across their varying trajectories, suspended above and below horizons.

Drawing from R.C. Ellis’ sketchbook, dated 1942 Drawings from R.C. Ellis’ sketchbook, dated 1942

“MyWurlitzerFoundationgranthasgivenmethetimeandfreedomtostudymyselfand mypainting.Ithasgivenmetimeforconcentratedcreativity,timetoselectthebestfrommy experiencesbothpastandpresent.”

- R.C. Ellis, 1961

Having already befriended Taos Modernist Andrew Dasburg during his studies in the 1940s, Ellis only became more immersed in modernist art upon being awarded his first Wurlitzer Foundation residency in 1961. With the first-ever recipient of a Wurlitzer Foundation grant being Agnes Martin (1912-2004), the stage had been set for heralding some of the era’s most influential abstract expressionist and modern artists. Clay Spohn (1898-1977) followed soon after Martin, but so did other Taos Moderns, who would work directly with Ellis.

During his first residence in 1961, Ellis was accompanied by Adeine de la Noe and Earl Stroh. Ellis and Stroh were granted another residency the following year, in 1962, leading them to form a close friendship. In 1966, Ellis returned for his third and final residency, joined again by Adeine de la Noe and Wesley Rusnell.

Right: Spain Studies, 1971 9 x 9”, graphite and colored pencil on paper Isole #5, 1972 48 x 40”, oil on canvas White Island, 1977 50 x 42”, oil on linen Isole #11, c. 1970s 100 x 80”, oil on linen Spain No. 101, c. 1970s 50 x 40”, acrylic and oil on canvas Graphite #10, c. 1971 25 x 18”, graphite on paper Spain No. Eleven, 1972 25 x 18”, graphite on paper

Spain No. Seven, 1971

25 x 18”, graphite on paper

Isole #3, c. 1970s 50 x 42”, oil on canvas Untitled Spain Series, c. 1970s 49 x 69”, mixed media on linen Torre Real #3, 1973 13 x 11”, graphite and colored pencil on paper Torre Real, 1970 9.5 x 12.5”, graphite and colored pencil on paper Sprinkler System, 1971 50 x 42”, oil on canvas Torre Real, c. 1971 23 x 17”, graphite and colored pencil on paper Volcano #39, c. 1970s 22 x 29”, graphite on paper Llano Quemado No. 3, c. 1970s 48 x 40”, mixed media on linen Spain No. Ten, 1971 10 x 7.5”, graphite and colored pencil on paper Volcano #37, c. 1970s 22 x 29”, graphite on paper

This exhibition would not be possible without the efforts of Rosamaria Ellis Clark (1931-2022), known as Rosa, to collect and preserve her late husband’s artworks during her lifetime. R.C. and Rosa’s legacy lives on as avid supporters of the Taos art community. They are honored by the Harwood Museum as founding members and through naming rights on the wall of “The Ellis Clark Moderns Gallery,” a wing just opposite the Agnes Martin room of the museum. Without Rosa, many artworks by Ellis and other Taos Moderns could have been lost to history but are now part of the Harwood’s permanent collection.

Left to right: Portrait of Rosamaria Ellis Clark and R.C. Ellis
1335 Gusdorf Rd. Suite i. Taos. NM 575-751-1262

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.