Gay City and TimeOut: Stephen Ellis

"The Primary Force in Politics: Stephen Ellis articulates an argument that challenges commonplace cultural expectations"

Versions of this review appeared in Gay City News and TimeOut New York:

Jeremiah, of the 24th book of the Old Testament—a seer who railed against  sinners, priests, false prophets, kings and generals, and was claimed by some to be a previous incarnation of Jesus Christ.  And why has Stephen Ellis titled his current show of abstract paintings “Jeremiads”?  What could Jeremiah have to do with contemporary art, in 2003?  

The notion that art is without politics is itself a political stance.  The fact that our culture is so thoroughly inculcated to the idea is a victory of an atavistic, backwards view.  Creative thinking has been largely relegated to party tricks and crocodile tears (Jeremiah himself is mistakenly  associated with the Book of Lamentation, and weeping) .  In truth, art, as the origin of language, is the most primary element of politics, and historically demonstrates itself to be just that, whether in the form of a new, insurgent written language invented b y the ancient Hebrews, or an album by Public Enemy.  

Here, we find the powerfully articulated (gesticulated?) argument of Steve Ellis.  Bold, lush colors, very much of a present-day milieu, hold themselves at the brink of this impact between abstraction and pictogram, abstraction and language.  Always, like Ellis, people are struggling for modes of expression that reach beyond the language of their leaders—and this is the essence of political evolution.  The state of the world now, with the link between the promise land of America and the promise land of the Middle East, only points up the enduring need for people to relate in manners beyond the strictures of reticent  rhetorics. 

It is a difficult time for artists—the narrowness of their cultural license to participate, their limitation of the resources available to them—and Ellis is unassailable in his assertion that creative thinking, whatever that thought process ultimately puts forth, is a social activism.  Electric blue expanses,  color palettes of vibrating intensity—all seems to compete directly with our commonplace cultural expectations, in particular with that of another holiday season.  And why not, Ellis asks,  why not, this winter solstice, forgo the crèche, and hang the work of a contemporary artist, instead?