Janiva Ellis interviewed by Laura Brown

“Janiva Ellis makes paintings fraught with tension and exaggerated expression, filled with cartoonish images and the playful, even psychedelic narratives they carry. Each scene tells the tales of these sensations as wrought in daily life. Ellis’s vivid and growing visual vocabulary is employed, as she says below, “like a gloved hand, muting its individuality yet exaggerating its gesture.” 

 Gloved hands often appear in Ellis’s works. In 2017, she presented Lick Shot at 47 Canal, her first solo show in New York. This exhibition included a series of works variously populated with layered figures and gestures, sometimes against a glimpse of blue sky. More recently, Ellis made a set of paintings for Songs for Sabotage, the 2018 New Museum Triennial in New York. These scenes have grown larger, their skies now filled with both puffy clouds and ominous smoke. 

 I wanted to find out more about Ellis’s recurring cast of forms and the circumstances in which they are found, made, and are reflective of. Ellis divides her time between Los Angeles and New York, and we carried out our interview in writing during May and June of 2018. Our conversation has been edited for print.”

From Laura Brown, “Stress and Jest: A Conversation with Janiva Ellis,” X-TRA (2019).