Let’s Chill Under a Tree by Josiah Ellner
Josiah Ellner is an American artist who currently resides in Milwaukee. This Q&A was conducted between Josiah and Claire Sarfeld the founder of A WAY Gallery. Josiah is one of the artists featured in "The KICKOFF" exhibition that is currently on display at A WAY Art Gallery. Click HERE to view the exhibition.
Can you tell the AWAY community a bit about yourself?
My name is Josiah Ellner, I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but grew up in Xi’an, China. I recently graduated from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin with a BFA in painting and drawing and currently work part time at a local coffee shop. Otherwise, I dedicate as much of my free time as I can to working on projects in the studio.
Were you creative at a young age?
Yes! From my earliest memories, I remember making and creating. It was something that came very naturally to me and was something I really enjoyed.
Was there a particular moment you knew that art was your career path?
Yes, it was the first semester of my sophomore year in college, where I had spent my entire freshman year trying so hard to suppress and avoid my urge to pursue art. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I finally gave up and decided to major in painting and drawing. Growing up in China and being homeschooled, I really didn’t have a lot of exposure to art. In fact, the culture that I grew up in was not really one to push or encourage the arts. Ultimately, I grew up thinking that if you pursue the arts, you cannot be successful or happy. This was so ingrained in my mind that I was very close to not making the quite scary decision to choose my passion as my degree.
You graduated quite recently from University, was there any advice that you were given there that has helped with your career so far and that you would give to others? Or was there a teacher that really impacted you?
Shane Walsh is a professor that really influenced my work and is someone who really taught me a lot of what it’s like to be a practicing studio artist. The best piece of advice I got from him was to never stop making, to make as much work as possible, and to not treat every painting you are working on like a precious object. This advice has helped me move forward as a painter, make a lot of mistakes and through those mistakes learn and make better work.
Beach Bums by Josiah Ellner
How have you found the transition from school into the art world? Has it been smooth or has there been bumps in the road?
I would say it has been mostly bumpy but nothing that I wasn’t expecting.
Are you considering a MFA in the future?
Yes, I am planning on eventually pursuing an MFA. I am looking at schools in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
How has your practice been impacted during this time in quarantine? Has it taught you anything about yourself as an artist?
During quarantine I was not working, so I had a lot of time on my hands. This was a perfect opportunity for me to get back into the studio and focus on my art practice. During quarantine, I had just used up all my canvas frames. I usually make them myself at a woodshop but with the pandemic, I didn’t have access to one, and ordering custom built frames online was just not an option for me as I couldn’t afford any of the nice, large frames. This was both a blessing and a curse because I couldn’t paint but it also forced me to re-discover some other materials and dive back into drawing. As a result, during quarantine, I spent a lot of time drawing and just experimenting with different materials- one of the primary ones being paper.
"Loosely" Coloured Pencil, Crayon and Marker. 2020
Can you tell us a bit about your process and how your paintings come to life? Is your studio clean or messy? Do you listen to music or podcasts?
All my paintings begin in my sketchbook. A lot of them are from experiences in the moment and also from memory. These drawings in my sketchbook are usually quick sketches, so they are very rough and incomplete. More often than not, they are simply line drawings that essentially look like a bunch of scribbles. I then transfer the sketch to canvas, and from there I begin the fun part of painting as well as the hard part of problem solving. When I begin a painting, I have a very minimal idea of what the end result will be. Minimal planning allows me to really stretch and work out my creative muscles during the process. Creating a painting for me is really a process of the moment. Deciding on what colors would work, where to create pattern, what pattern to use, what texture to include, when to mask areas off, where to make things flatten out, where to add volume. These are all questions that I am thinking about while painting. The answers to these questions are only revealed to me through the act of painting. This is something I enjoy because it makes the process of painting exciting and unpredictable. My studio space is definitely more messy than clean. I mainly listen to music but more recently have discovered some really awesome art podcasts that engage my mind while I work.
You mentioned being interested in talking about your art and it's place in art history. How do you feel your art plays into the current narrative of what's happening in the art world? Will you elaborate more on this statement?
Art history is a double-edged sword in my opinion. I think it is important to understand it in order to create contemporary work, but it can also hinder artists from creating work that is relevant. My work is very much about the relationship between humanity and the natural world since the coming of the digital age. So, it is very much about what’s happening right now. With art history, we can always look back and target specific movements. But with contemporary art, because it is happening right now and is changing as we speak, it can be hard to decipher what is actually happening and where it’s heading, especially if you aren’t based in a location that is considered an ‘art hub’. Something I have noticed a lot more is the huge role that digital culture is beginning to play in contemporary painting. Whether that be artists using the digital as tools to create work, critiquing digital culture, or trying to simulate digital imagery. As a millennial, I am greatly influenced by the digital world and I believe my paintings show that. If my art is to be associated or categorized within any movement, I would say it takes part in this vast digital movement that continues to unfold in this present age.
Is there an artist or artistic movement that you are inspired by? Who's work has caught your eye lately?
There are so many amazing artists out there that inspire me daily. Robin F. Williams, Kyle Vu Dunn, Eleanor Swordy, Julie Curtis, Danica Lundy and Brandon Lipchik are a few artists that really inspire me on the daily just to name a few!