Robert Ellis is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent artists. He has held more than 60 solo exhibitions and innumerable group exhibitions in New Zealand and abroad. Although primarily known as a painter, Ellis has worked in many mediums including etching, tapestry, lithography, medallic casting, photography and video.
Ellis’ Motorways period (1960-74), which explored the rapid development and urbanisation of Auckland City, has been called “one of the most sustained and significant contributions to painting in New Zealand.” (1) Over the following years, Ellis has gone on to explore elements of New Zealand Māori and European identities, drawing observations from personal as well as social perspectives. Using a visual language rich with symbolism, Ellis investigates the multiplicity of histories contained in the land: geological, environmental, European, Māori, political, private. These narratives combine to create a deep, abiding, and spiritual sense of place in Ellis’ works.
Robert Ellis was born in Northampton, England in 1929. After three years at the Northampton School of Art he attended London’s Royal College of Art from 1949 to 1952. He came to New Zealand in 1957 to take up a position as Senior Lecturer at Elam School of Fine Arts and taught there for over 35 years. In 2001 he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit ONZM for services to Fine Arts. (2)
With his works held in every significant public collection in the country, as well as in collections abroad, Ellis is a distinguished figure in the New Zealand art world. Ron Sang Publications’ newly released monograph, Robert Ellis, and Tūrangawaewae (2014/15), a survey exhibition of his works at the Auckland Art Gallery, reveal the depth, breadth, and continuing relevance of Robert Ellis’ practice.
1. Warwick Brown. A Motorway Journey, “Paintings by Robert Ellis,” Art New Zealand, No. 34, 1985, p.36.
2. Robert Ellis, Hamish Keith, Elizabeth Ellis, Hana Ellis and Ngarino Ellis, Robert Ellis, Ron Sang Publications, 2014.