Art Space: Details, details | June 5, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - June 5, 2009

Art Space: Details, details

by John A. Barry

The first thing you notice about Chris Ellingson's portrait of Danville's hometown hero Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger is what you don't notice. A closer look reveals elements related to Capt. Sullenberger's life and profession. Ellingson refers to such elements as "associative images." He says they sometimes emerge from his subconscious.

The artist's intent is not of paramount importance for Ellingson ( "No one cares what you (the artist) think," he says. "I try not to infuse my work with too much intent." He prefers to "set the stage for people to enter a painting and figure out their own meaning."

Ellingson says he begins with a subject and then introduces imagery that will complement that subject. "I start with one thing and then build upon it." His approach is to present abstract ideas in a relatively realistic fashion.

Although this approach as described is accretive and focused on problem-solving, Ellingson says he does not get "hung up on every detail being perfect." He says that he needs to paint quickly or the work's flow will be impeded. The temptation is strong to go over and over a line in the pursuit of some perceived perfection, but too often, Ellingson believes, such pursuit can ruin the work in question.

If that work is a portrait, Ellingson avoids a formal sitting. He meets with the subject and gets the subject talking about him- or herself, taking lots of pictures in the process. That way, he says, he gets a relaxed, "real" view into the person, as opposed to a postured pose. He retains the energy the subject manifests during the session and then puts it onto canvas "however it turns out," which generally begins with a quick sketch. "The process is intuitive," he explains.

A friend of Ellingson's suggested that he do the portrait of Sullenberger, a project he took on when he had no commissions, using a public-domain image of the pilot. The artist said he thought this work "would put him on the map," but so far he has been unable to bring it to the captain's attention. He says he may take it to the Town of Danville in hopes of having it displayed somewhere.

Raising the bar

Ellingson started to develop his esthetic attitudes as a high school student. His interest in the arts eventually took him to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied for three years, leaving to work for a time as a clinical program specialist, forming programs for developmentally disabled people.

He then found a more appropriate avenue for his talents: faux painting and other decorative arts for homeowners, working for high-end design firms such as Danville's J. Hettinger Interiors. He still takes commissions for this type of work as well as for portraiture. Portraits, he notes, do not necessarily allow him to do his own thing, but they are currently his "bread and butter" when it comes to commissions.

Last year he served briefly as director of Danville's defunct Pioneer Art Gallery. At the time of my interview with him for this column, he was balancing art - his passion - with duty as a barista at Starbucks in Blackhawk Plaza, a job he was about to leave, he said, because it was detrimental to artistic development.

"Things run their course," he says. "Working at Starbucks has been good for me. I've gotten a lot of commissions while working the bar there, talking to customers about art and the meaning of life, but I want to dedicate all my time to my art."

After some lobbying by his Starbucks co-workers and with customer support, he will be displaying his portrait of Sullenberger at the Blackhawk Plaza Starbucks. "The Blackhawk Plaza store previously had no space allocated for community art. Starbucks customers voiced interest in an art space and made it happen. It's really nice to see that support for my art, and for the local art community, is there."

In 2007 Ellingson was mainly responsible for the installation of a community art wall at another Starbucks location, next to San Ramon Valley High School. "There are people in this community who care about art. That's something we can all be proud of."

Reception and Exhibit: Kevin Milligan Gallery, 408 Hartz Ave, Danville; 5-8 p.m., Saturday, June 13; telephone 309-4648

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail


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