An Interview With Sculptor Ellen Jewett
Ellen Jewett is not your average artist by any stretch of the imagination. Never mind artists, Ellen’s brain doesn’t work like your average human’s. It musn’t, because the visions of animals that she produces in her unique and highly idealized style are like nothing you have ever experienced before I’m sure.
Upon first viewing one of Ellen’s pieces you think, cute frog… no, no wait… steam punk frog? No, no wait, village within frog, powered by steam punk-ness? And on your brain goes, wandering throughout and over the piece until you begin to take in the infinite level of detail and complexity that is one of Ellen’s pieces. They are worlds unto themselves.
The moment I first saw one of Ellen’s sculptures I knew I had to hunt her down and ask a few questions. So I am very privileged and honored that she took time out of her busy schedule just to answer my wee-little-questions. It would seem that since I first contacted her, her internet fame has blown up exponentially instantly. I’m seeing her everywhere now, and I am so glad for her. Definitely deserves the recognition for her amazingly beautiful and interesting pieces.
TH – You have degrees in Anthropology and Fine Art, and are currently studying equine science? Do you consider yourself a professional artist or professional student first? From the outside looking in it would seem like you must have your days absolutely crammed full – how do you find the time for everything you must cram into your daily life?
Ellen Jewett – I consider myself an artist first but I’m sure I will be a lifelong learner. I’m too curious by nature to stop learning, whether it’s as a student or teacher. While I am busy, I don’t like to be rushed. I’m a stop, look and listen type of person. But being full of passion for so many different endeavors means all the negative space in life is saturated with content. There is no such things as free time or boredom, but I can’t imagine life any other way.
TH – Your sculptures are extraordinarily kinetic, and full of movement. Does the form and shape all come out in the clay or do you sketch and design your forms in advance? And as a follow up, that will be impossible to answer, where do these amazing ideas come from? They really are lovely ideas all.
Ellen Jewett – Occasionally I sketch, or jot down a note or two, but it’s more to capture moments of inspiration so they don’t become lost. For the most part I work everything out as I sculpt. I feel a great affinity for my materials and usually find the forms flow out easily and naturally on their own. I often have no idea how the final piece will look and I’m not too precious about that. I work using mostly additive techniques, and I tend to make each little piece a response to the last. I think it is this conversational and reflexive quality that creates the flowing look. The representational elements, the animals, plants and objects, manifest in the same fashion. I start to make a horse only to discover it wants to be a goat, and its legs become a sea shell. I find it easy to tap into imaginative flow states and the imagery finds itself. Most of the narrative flow in and between pieces comes about retrospectively but I think that is what tapping into the unconscious is all about. That said a lot of my early work was made on commission, so there were more outside voices and influences that tended to lean more towards a fantasy bent. My current work reflects my own interests in themes like wildness, domestication and interconnected relationships.
TH – I am personally very intrigued with your yin and yang two rat piece (sorry, I looked and looked for a title and alas, failed) could you tell me a little bit more about this particular piece? The impetus, the meaning or possibly where the form for two rats connected by their tails came from? I just adore the complete package of how this piece works together and maybe the relationship between these two characters.
Ellen Jewett – The rats were an part of a larger installation for a Chinese horoscope collection. They are a good example of a largely unplanned piece. I think my only goal originally was to present a rat in a literal and non-archetypical way. In creating the yin yang composition I felt I was repositioning the rat, an animal humans normally relegate to the margins, representing all that is undesirable and invasive, to a more neutral position. The success story of rats in the larger world is not so different from our own, they are not extremists but generalists. They are Intelligent and highly adaptable, and they, like us, leave a wake of positive, negative and ambiguous consequences behind in their voyages around the earth. If we can parse out our own cultural and historical misgivings I believe it is possible to see the rat as an interesting ally. When I examine an animal subject, it is these types of narratives or dialogues I like to feel my way through.
TH – Feels like your sculpture is really mature and nuanced simultaneously… do you have any future goals or desires for your sculpting career? Is there anything on your agenda that you are really excited about?
Ellen Jewett – I am generally looking forward to the opportunity to exhibit more internationally and work on bigger installations and projects. The biggest event on my agenda right now is moving my home, studio and life (dogs, coffee maker…) from Ontario to our new location on Vancouver Island. It should be quite a trip!
Ellen, we really do wish you all the success and fortune the world has to offer. Thanks so much once again for your amazing kindnesses to me for your honest answers and your contribution in making the world we live in a more beautiful place to live in.