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"Up For Discussion"
a solo exhibit of paintings by Dana Ellyn

Era Gallery - Wilmington, NC
May 16 - June 28, 2008

(scroll to read full text below)
Interview with Dana Ellyn in Wilmington's Encore Magazine
Interview with Dana Ellyn in Wilmington's Star Newspaper
Review of "Up For Discussion" in Wilmington's Star Newspaper

Photos from the show
(click to enlarge)

Dana Elly and Era owner Chet Fisher

Dana Ellyn with Isabel Heblich
(from Star Newspaper)

Dana Ellyn and Matt Sesow
photos by Matt Sesow

Interview with Dana Ellyn in Enore Magazine
May 14, 2008

Something to Talk About:
D.C. artist Dana Ellyn starts conversations at ERA Gallery
By: Lauren Hodges

A "conversation piece" is defined as any object that arouses comment among viewers because of some striking or unusual quality. It can be a piece of furniture, a piece of jewelry or, of course, a piece of art. Investing in a piece of local art almost guarantees that houseguests will have something to talk about other than one's cooking (which I'm sure was just delicious)! Though some people might think art purchases need to coordinate with their living-room set, the true value in art can be found in the effect it has on the viewer; it should stand out, not blend in. "Art is subjective, and I don't expect everyone to like what I paint," D.C.-based artist Dana Ellyn says. "But I do hope that people take the time to look at my paintings, give them a little thought and perhaps walk away with the lasting impression that they've seen something truly original."

Ellyn has been busy painting acrylic portraits of important figures in her life, some of which are very recognizable. The subjects are caricatures, either of famous people like the Pope or Donald Trump, or faces we all recognize in ourselves. She chooses her subjects based on how they will be seen historically in the future, as she wishes the world would have a little more perspective on what it deems newsworthy. "I don't find many other contemporary artists creating paintings like mine," she says. "That could mean I'm either on the wrong track or the right one. I like to believe the latter. Our country is waging wars, our economy is in the toilet, our national news spends more time talking about Britney Spears than they do about the crisis in Darfur."

As for her style, Ellyn has purposefully avoided "pretty" in order to stand out from trends. "So many artists are out there creating whimsical abstracts and trendy graffiti. Not to say there's not a place in the world for decorative art; I just don't think it will make the history books."

The books might have something to say about Ellyn's artistic commentary, especially since most uphold a view on either religion, politics, family or society in general.

"There were many years of creative ideas locked in my head that I was afraid to express on canvas," she admits. "One of my biggest stumbling blocks used to be ‘what will people think?' Over the years, as I've gained confidence, I've been able to shed some of those fears. I realized that the more I learned to express myself on canvas, the better the work was received. I love the feedback and the reactions to my paintings." This week Wilmington will have the chance to react to Ellyn's paintings as they debut at ERA Gallery. "Up for Discussion," her latest solo show, will feature her shocking paintings, starring some of the country's most sensitive subjects. Ellyn is excited about the upcoming exhibit because she claims to thrive on the response of the public.

"When I put emotion into a piece, the viewer brings their emotion to it," she says. "I still have a long way to go on that front. There are some topics I haven't yet touched and others I have only begun to tackle. It should be an interesting future."

"Up for Discussion: Solo Exhibition of Paintings by Washington, D.C., Artist Dana Ellyn" will hold its opening reception on Friday, May 16th, from 6-9pm at 523 S. 3rd Street. Call 910-612-0542 for more information, or visit Ellyn's Web site at www.danaellyn.com to view her work.

Interview with Dana Ellyn in Star Newspaper
May 15, 2008

Controversial exhibit spins cultural icons on their head
'Up for Discussion' exhibition at ERA gallery lampoons religion, politics and more

By Isabel Heblich,
Star-News Correspondent
Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Most readers probably think the Easter Bunny story is not true, and Santa is a hoax. They would call these characters mythic image-icons, fake idols that are representational of our culture, its morals, its economics. Dana Ellyn, a painter from Washington, D.C., would also lump Jesus, the Pope, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama into that category. "Everything is just a story to me," Ellyn said during a phone interview.

Up for Discussion, a show of Ellyn's provocative paintings, opens on Friday at ERA Gallery in downtown Wilmington.

"I want people to look at them, to read them, and to talk about them," Ellyn said. "They are literally up for discussion." The poster for her show features the painting Silly Rabbit, Myths are for Kids, which depict Jesus in a bunny suit laying an egg and being unmasked by a little girl who is excitedly holding the deflated bunny head. Looking at the poster, one might wonder if ERA will be facilitating a fist-fight instead of a discussion. We are in the Bible belt, but if politics is the real national religion, people might get upset over Ellyn's portrayal of Obama as a bathroom-product spokes-cartoon in Mr. Clean because of the candidate's "squeaky-clean image." Others may wince at Hillary's maniacal laughing/screaming face in Oh No! Mr. Bill! as she chokes the old SNL character.

But other people will think it's hysterically funny. Pop culture is our language and she speaks it. Coming to Town features Donald Trump as The Pope driving Santa's sleigh through the night sky, waving a bejeweled hand.

She attacks all social conventions and institutions with equal ruthlessness. She is currently working on portraits of all the presidents and illustrations of the Ten Commandments.

"Sometimes the idea is slower than the painting," Ellyn said. "I need the seed on an idea just to get going, the nuances come in along the way."

Nuances like, "What is the priest going to be doing in the confessional? ... Reading an issue of Boy's Life magazine."

Subject matter aside, the surfaces of Ellyn's paintings are beautiful, dry-brushed layers of luminescent pop colors in flowering strokes.

Ironically, the glowing skin of her figures, whose exaggerated, thickly outlined features seem to be carved out, originated in ancient biblical art and set the style for stained glass windows.

Ellyn's paintings are more of a MAD Magazine or Tim Burton level of naughtiness. Critical concepts tearing apart respected American deities are visually neutralized by a kind of 1950s rockabilly style, like how the potentially perverted stuff in Disney goes unnoticed because of the superficially sincere pastel color palate and tradition of every character having oversized, shallow, blameless eyes. This balance, the tension that Ellyn toys with in each painting, along with their simplicity, is what makes them so effective.

"I've always been a little wiseass," Ellyn said. "Now I just have the nerve to paint about it."

This happened "somewhere between the last 5 to 7 years" for Ellyn, who also around that time quit her corporate job to paint full-time and began a relationship with another courageous, popular and hip D.C. artist, Matt Sesow.

A light-hearted agnostic, Ellyn likens her paintings' concepts to the resolution of each Scooby-Doo cartoon, when Scooby and Shaggy "pull off (the monster's) mask and discover it's just Mr. Johnson from the hardware store."

Perhaps Wilmington's more conservative audience will find the reoccurring red herring principle to be true with Ellyn herself.

Review of "Up For Discussion" in Star Newspaper
May 20, 2008

Art and pedicabs
By Jarvis Slacks,
Star-News Correspondent
Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2008

Things I don't understand but tried anyway

I usually avoid art openings because I have no idea what looks good visually. I mean, I do, but not when it comes to paint on a canvas. Put a movie screen in front of me, with giant robots emoting and explosions and some dude with a massive gun the size of my mid-section and, yeah, I can say that looks good.

Art isn't something I've ever connected with. Not typically. I can stare at some Japanese paintings for hours. They are complicated pieces of art from a complicated people. Why do Americans paint a picture of some dude's face? With him holding a fish? And the fish has a weird-looking eye? In a boat? With textured water?

That's why I spent part of my Friday night at the Up for Discussion art opening at Era Gallery on Castle and Third streets. Dana Ellyn's paintings were on the walls, and people were discussing them. These were suppose to be controversial pieces, art that made people turn and say, "No you didn't!"

There were several pieces that stood out. Silly Rabbit, Myths are for Kids was interesting, with Jesus in a bunny suit. Then there was Waiting, with four paintings of happy children, with one painting of a girl wearing a straitjacket, with a cross around her neck. Most of the paintings were laden with political messages, nuggets of truth the artist was trying to jab into my brain with a paintbrush. But I'm a bit of a jerk. The more someone tells me to do something, or the more someone tells me something is wrong, the more I don't care. Was I missing the point of this because I'm hard-headed? The girl serving the wine was close by. I pointed to a painting.

"Do you like it?" I needed something. I felt lost. The more I stared at the paintings, the more I wanted to lick them to see what they tasted like.

"I was just talking about it," she said. "I was saying how I'd put it up in my den, if I had a house."

The painting was called Mommy's Little Helpers and it portrayed two little girls holding a martini shaker and olives. Their eyes were aimed at me, as if they knew my secrets, that they knew a martini was something I craved deep inside of my soul. Is this what art is supposed to do? Generate guilt and self-reflection? If I self-reflect anymore, I might fall to my knees in tears. And no one wants to see that. I recommend art. There are many galleries in town. A night out, looking at the strange scratchings, would do you some good. Sometimes at art openings they even serve wine. And, yes, everything looks deep and meaningful with a glass of wine.

Press Release:

April 21, 2008
"Up for Discussion" - Solo Exhibition of Paintings by Washington DC Artist, Dana Ellyn

Opening Reception: Friday, May 16 from 6pm to 9pm
Exhibition: May 17 to June 28, 2008

In her newest solo show, "Up for Discussion", Dana Ellyn tackles the subjects of religion, politics, family and other sensitive issues with her sardonic humor and engaging honesty.

Dana values her fine arts training but arduously works on peeling away the art school compulsion to make, and hide behind pretty pictures. Dana's unique perspective and inspiration are drawn from living in the world's most influential city - she lives and paints less than five blocks from the White House. The allure of a Dana Ellyn painting is that it tells a story, her paintings have meaning, and sometimes the message may come as a shock.

When I asked Dana what she wanted Wilmington to remember most from her solo show at Era, she answered, "Art is subjective and I don't expect everyone to like what I paint. But, I do hope that people take the time to look at my paintings, give them a little thought and perhaps walk away with the lasting impression that they've seen something truly original.

I don't find many other contemporary artists creating paintings like mine. That could mean I'm either on the wrong track, or the right one. I like to believe the latter. Our country is waging wars, our economy is in the toilet, our national news spends more time talking about Britney Spears than they do about the crisis in Darfur - yet so many artists are out there creating whimsical abstracts and trendy graffiti. Not to say there's not a place in the world for decorative art - I just don't think it will make the history books."

VENUE: Era 20th Century Furniture and Art Gallery
523 S. 3rd St. (Corner of Castle and 3rd)
Wilmington, NC 28401

CONTACT: Chet Fisher - Era Gallery Director 910-612-0542