Ellen Priest’s jazz-based abstractions balance directly on the border between painting and sculpture – vibrantly colored spatial illusions when read from a distance, and 3-D relief constructions of layered, collaged paper when seen up close. Jazz has been her subject matter since 1990. Drawing is always central to her process, as well as standing on its own.
Priest’s inspiration comes from surprisingly diverse sources. 1) Life-long visual art influences include Cezanne’s late watercolors, Matisse’s color and compositional structure, and Abstract Expressionism, especially the paintings of Willem De Kooning and Joan Mitchell. 2) The rhythmic and harmonic structures in jazz and related African and Latin American music. 3) Her athletic pursuits, since her paintings are really about movement. Priest’s favorite sports are “balance sports,” where motion depends on weight and balance thrown off-center, often in response to terrain, like skiing.
In July 2010, art critic Victoria Donohoe wrote about Priest’s work in two Wilmington exhibitions for 'The Philadelphia Inquirer': “Priest deliberately blurs the boundary between painting and jazz in her Venezuelan Suite painted collages. These use form as a language of music... Seeing jazz as full of joy and energy, able to transform sadness, Priest uses it successfully here to create materialized movement in actual worlds of colored space.”
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation has twice awarded Priest major grants to support her innovation. Priest received her Master of Divinity from Yale University Divinity School in 1977 with a dual concentration in Christianity and the Visual Arts. As an artist, she is largely self-taught. For more about her art, her background and her unique process: www.ellenpriest.com.