Dodgeball (Back to School), oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″, 2021
Doing Shots, acrylic on board, 16″ x 24″, 2021
Birthday Selfie (Life During Quarantine), oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″, 2020
A Level of Malaise, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″, 2022
Whiskey Girl, acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 24″, 2021
Gender Neutral, oil on canvas, 24″ x 40″, 2019
Spot the Differences, acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 40″, 2021
Trading Places (Disguised), oil on canvas, 14″ x 18″, 2021
Big Fancy Rooster, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 48″, 2022
I have always been creative, and enjoyed drawing and painting from my earliest memories. I spent much of my childhood alone, using my time to create, and although I was fortunate to have grown up in a small town and to have received throughout grade school and high school special attention and encouragement from my art teachers, mine was a childhood of holding my tongue and trying quietly to do my own thing. It was not until 1989, when I arrived in Washington, D.C., as an 18-year-old college student at George Washington University, at last free to explore, experiment, and be myself, that I finally found my voice. In 2001, I started painting full-time.
I have gone through periods when I focused my paintings primarily on politics and religion but as the world has shifted around me, I have shifted, adding to my body of work paintings about animal rights and vegetarianism and, over the past 24 months, the pandemic. To date, I have created nearly 100 Covid-inspired paintings.
I am no stranger to controversy, though careful research and quiet planning are hallmarks of my art. All of my paintings have stories to tell, opinions to profess — all with the goal of starting a dialogue. I constantly question, as thoughtfully as I can, established norms but sometimes, by taking up controversial themes, I’ve garnered national and international attention.
When I first started to explore vegan topics, I was quite aggressive and heavy-handed in my messages. The more I learned about the horrors of the meat and dairy industries, the more urgency I felt in my certainty that everyone knew what I knew. And, perhaps, I hoped to motivate others to make more mindful food choices. I think the raw emotional response I expressed in my earliest vegan paintings hit a nerve with people. Vegans related to it, and applauded it, but non-like-minded people immediately turned away. I realized over time that I needed to soften my imagery and find more approachable and relatable ways to express my messages. I’m much less concerned now with being technically correct, and freedom from restrictive habits has facilitated development of my style, which is somewhere between social realism and expressionism.
I think one can paint only what one knows. I see everything through my personal filter and my personal experiences. I won’t paint something I know nothing about. I even turn down commissions that truly don’t speak to me, because the result would only be a dull and uninspired painting. Reality goes in, gets shaken up in my brain with 50 years of experiences and imaginative thoughts, and comes out on canvas in new and unexpected ways.
Not all my paintings have some great or epic meaning. Some of them are just for fun. But I feel most satisfied and inspired when I immerse myself in a topic and paint something that is going to speak to someone at an intellectual level. There is a place in this world for decorative, feel-good art but that is not the part of the world I live in.
About the Artist
Dana Ellyn, a Washington, D.C., resident, is a full-time painter who lives and paints in her downtown studio. She committed herself to full-time-artist status after she decided to leave a corporate job and pursue painting.
An exhibitor around the globe, Dana Ellyn has had significant museum showings in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Baltimore, Maryland.
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