We had the good fortune of connecting with Jim Ellsberry and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jim, how do you think about risk?
Risk-taking not is not everyone. But, for the artist, it’s part of the formula that leads to good and, sometimes, great work.
My first college-level painting class was with Utah artist Harrison Groutage. One afternoon our class met outdoors to paint. Our subject was the vast, open landscape of Logan Valley in northern Utah. A huge vista, worthy of an equally big elocution by Groutage. He said nothing about our artwork, but everything about life when he walked around looking at our struggles, “Everyone should have at least 3 careers in life.” I do not remember a thing he said about art or painting, but the 3-careers idea stuck with me.
Without knowing it at the time, I was to follow Harrison’s admonition. For me, the years ahead brought a career in aerospace; another as a business owner, designer and maker of guitars; and a third career circling back to my earliest inclination: art and painting.
Would I suggest this to young people today? Absolutely not. It’s an idea fraught with great risk. But for the person constantly pushed by that gut need to explore and excel in the arts – painting, writing, music – risk is a constant companion and essential partner.
Three careers? Perhaps. Or better yet, if an artist has that singular focus early on in life, knows their work is good and can grow and stand up next to the best… then they should welcome risk. Understand it, use it to grow and improve. Risk-taking is essential for finding one’s unique artistic voice.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Today, I am a painter and art teacher. I studied landscape painting at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, and I have traveled from the Southwest to New York to study with contemporary painters I admire.
I grew up in Southern California and was drawn to the California Plein-Air movement. In addition, I find great inspiration among the early to contemporary European painters. My love of art is anchored in the tradition of landscape painting, but my interests move beyond tradition. I’m greatly influenced by the French Impressionists – their path to modernism – and by the work of New York’s Abstract Expressionist painters.
I have a real passion for exploring ideas about art and its process. I always hope to find new and interesting ways to reflect these ideas in my work, especially as they relate to the natural world.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My world is music, art and the outdoors. These days I love traditional jazz, and a year is not complete without a few visits to Catalina’s Jazz Club on Sunset Boulevard. Another great music venue is LACMA’s monthly outdoor jazz concerts. For an intimate evening of progressive music – jazz, rock, other – I recommend Alva’s Music concerts in San Pedro.
As for art, we of course have LACMA. And Los Angeles recently added to its prestigious role among the world’s great art centers with the addition of The Broad in the downtown district. For those who like gallery-hopping, I highly recommend Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica. And for a great scenic ride along the coast, try the galleries in Laguna Beach.
And outdoors? I’ve always loved the expanse of open space along the coast from Los Angeles northward. A favorite stop is always Pt. Lobos near Monterey. On the Eastern side of the state is some of my favorite high-mountain country, the Sierra Nevada mountains where I’ve spent may summers hiking and backpacking. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Credit and recognition is another way of asking, “Who have you learned from?” There is far to much mediocre work out there. We must make the extra effort to uncover and learn from the best – those who have come before as well as those who are making the big contribution in the the fields today.
As an artist, I look at it all. I want to know the pioneers – Corot, Pissarro, Sargent, de Kooning, and so many more. They are the foundation, the ones who set the stage for all that is being done today. And today, there is exciting, outstanding, super-inspiring work being done. But it’s harder to find it. Some of it in the States, much of it in Europe and elsewhere. The internet is a great tool for this kind of research.
Find them – the greats! – they are out there ready to lead you forward.
All painting images by Jim Ellsberry. Image of JE by photographer Teresa Carlisle.