INTERVIEW: Ellen Ranson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Alice Smith

County Durham-born artist Ellen Ranson is making waves thanks to her big, bold and bright artworks which aim to question and challenge the rhetoric of male dominance within the artistic expressionism movement.

My interest in the abstract painting world linked to female artists really comes from historical research and goes back to abstract expressionism in the fifties and sixties and the ingrained imbalance and active exclusion of women.” She explains. “I felt like that this historical reference point was emblematic of exclusion more widely within art, but also more widely in the world itself. Some of the female artists of the time were completely excluded from their own movement by male artists. I feel like the abstract expressionist movement can be emblematic of exclusion as a whole. And because I’m a painter, this is how I explore those ideas.”

Ellen’s current work is typified by giant canvasses which encompass bright swathes of colour and shape. Sometimes employing unusual mediums and techniques – from using mops and brooms as ‘paintbrushes’, she explains that much of her work goes through a ‘trial and error’ approach. “My work is now becoming more about the layers and creating a sense of depth on the canvas with colour and pattern. I try to see each painting as an improvement on the last, be it in technique or material or even colour of the layers that I use. It’s like a learning process.”

We need to work towards a society where arts and culture is threaded throughout people’s lives, is accessible, democratic and relevant to everyone

Her new exhibition of work at Middlesbrough’s Pineapple Black gallery this month draws from her recent fellowship in Venice. Using photography or sketches as a basis, these latest paintings take inspiration from historical buildings of Venice, the art at the recent Biennale and even the graffiti she used as waypoints to find her way through the city. Venice is an amazing city. Its history, however, emerges from an ancient and ongoing patriarchal society. The 2022 Biennale felt like a clash of two worlds – the ancient and new. This year’s Biennale was the first time that women and gender non-conforming artists were in the majority. It really felt like a takeover of a place – Venice was representing the wider world. Part of the Biennale is held in the Arsenale, which at its time was one of the most powerful naval bases in the world – it’s a real show of power. And when I was there I was thinking about how it was filled with art work from around the world, 90% of which was by female/gender non-conforming artists.” Ellen will feed imagery of historical buildings from the city into her new work, utilising it as a motif or a repetitive pattern.

While this increased representation can only be a good thing, Ellen is emphatic that simply including more women and gender minorities in traditional arts spaces is not enough. “Whilst that’s always going to be an element of it, it’s something that’s much more ingrained in how galleries function, particularly large institutions with historical collections of artwork. It has to come from something much deeper, from the very roots of what art is and also how society functions. We need to work towards a society where arts and culture is threaded throughout people’s lives, is accessible, democratic and relevant to everyone.”

Ellen Ranson’s exhibition is on display at Pineapple Black, Middlesbrough from Friday 5th-Saturday 20th August, Thursday-Saturday by appointment.

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