Throughout Nancy Ellison’s extraordinary and accomplished career, her iconic portraits have documented the luminaries of contemporary culture from the legends opera and dance to the superstars of music and film. She has a special affinity for the leading figures of Hollywood, raised in Los Angeles Ellison has said of her youth in a recent magazine interview, “most important I saw celebrities – often out –of –work celebrities in daily life. I saw the effects of the Hollywood blacklist on the lives of school friends. I was witness to the complete reality of celebrity. My awe was slowly replaced by sympathy.”
Ellison’s icons are powerful revelations. Whether shooting on the fly on chaotic movie set or in highly staged studio settings, Ellison has an amazing gift for drawing forth something of the elusive essence and life force of her subjects. Aesthetically striking and often surprising, this exhibition presents some of Ellison’s most important portraits. Her subjects include Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Harrison Ford, the Clintons, Mick Jagger and Sting.
Nancy Ellison writes:
I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1936—a time in Southern California’s history where Dust Bowl migrants and European Intellectual expats mingled, lingering in the dreamy retouched, peroxide landscape of a new, sunnier life.
My neighborhood in Toluca Lake included the old Hollywood royalty (Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Bette Davis, Bing Crosby), the cultural elite (George Putman, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Aldous Huxley—who lived nearby under the HOLLYWOOD sign), the powerful (Roy Disney, Bob Hope, George Stevens…), the disillusioned (Blacklisted writers, directors such as Sydney Buchman whose daughter was my best friend), the new glamour (Frank Sinatra, William Holden) and the eccentric (Amelia Earnhardt—who disappeared before I was born but whose widower still lived on our block, and the stunt pilot, Paul Mantz, who used to fly through barns in movies). People walked around during lunch in costumes—we were a short trek to Universal and Warner’s, and the local country club hosted such stars as Stan Laurel, Johnny Weissmuller, Mickey Rooney, Hope, Crosby… Studio night—shooting gave us Japanese bombing runs, real aircraft factories were camouflaged with fake villages built on their roofs while fake airfields and balsa wood airplanes were created a few yards away to thwart air raids. (God bless Hollywood set designers who got into the war effort!)
Buildings came in the shape of objects like derby hats and hot dogs. Boulders that dotted the canyons in Malibu were made of papier-mâché from location filming. I guess my point of all this is that my world has always been eccentric and contrapuntal, but that the common reality, whether blacklisted intellectuals or pretty blonde daughters of Okies seeking stardom, was love for the creative process. That dream seldom faded, and I was raised immersed in it.