Considering the people whose portraits Nancy Ellison has shot, it’s no surprise that she has a fund of stories to tell. Sting. Sharon Stone. Jack Nicholson. Mick Jagger. Grace Jones. They’re not all in Nancy Ellison: Nancy - Off Color, the show with which Taglialatella Galleries will celebrate the grand opening Thursday through Jan. 17 of Taglialatella Galleries Due, its new second space in Via Bice. Whether or not the subjects are juicy, the stories always are.
This show is a little different from the Palm Beacher’s other photography exhibitions. For starters, it’s a little naughty with some bare flesh and sexy poses. Also, she’s hand-colored about 10 of the 20 black-and-white photographs culled from her 250,000-or-so-image archive. Ellison trained as a painter before becoming a photographer in the 1970s, when she moved with her then-husband, who was a movie producer, to California and began shooting film stars. The hand-coloring started when gallery owner Dominic Taglialatella and she were selecting the images for the show. They came across a photograph a young woman had commissioned as a present for her husband. When Taglialatella saw the hearts decorating the wall behind the nearly nude subject, he suggested Ellison turn them into “Jim Dine” hearts (like the pop artist).
“I’ve always wanted to make my painting and photography run together,” she said. “Now I get to do what I want finally.”
Tagliatella fell in love with Ellison’s hand-colored portrait of Grace Jones sporting bright pink lips and purple eye shadow. “I bought it myself,” he said. “It’s so dramatic.” There’s a story behind that photo. “She was always late,” Ellison said. After failing to show up for two scheduled shoots, Jones arrived uninvited in Mexico City when Ellison was shooting the actors for the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall. “She was having an affair with the stunt man,” Ellison said. Ellison, who has more than a dozen fine-art photography books to her credit, including In Grand Style: The Glory of the Metropolitan Opera, chose a photograph of a Met production of Der Rosenkavalier to hand color for the show. In the photograph, a man seated on an elaborately decorated hand-colored chair gazes down a woman’s cleavage. “I didn’t know when I did it to what extent it would comment on this year’s me-too reality,”
Ellison said. Photographs from a couple of shoots with Stone are in the show. In one, shot in the early 1990s in Venice, Calif., the star stands on the beach wearing a long, slinky dress. The dress got soaked during the shoot, Ellison said. Ellison created four versions of a photograph from a different shoot in which Stone is stretched out on a long table set against a wall. Above her the photographer superimposed a work from Roy Lichtenstein’s Bull Profile series embellished with her hand-coloring and drawings.
Although not all the subjects are mega-stars, most have some claim to fame. Ellison did a shoot for her friend, the late fashion designer Gianni Versace, in the late 1980s featuring Jennifer Flavin, who was dating Sylvester Stallone at the time. Stallone had asked the designer to include the budding model in one of his runway shows. Flavin, who appeared in the movie Rocky V, married Stallone in 1997. A couple of images feature Dolph Lundgren, best known for playing Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. One portrays him in boxing shorts by a punching bag.
The other was shot as Lundgren was leaving her studio in Venice one night. A car happened to pass by, catching him in its headlights and casting a bulky shadow on a wall smeared with graffiti. The image reminds Ellison of the gritty post-World War II films of Italian directors Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini.
There’s one image Ellison wishes she could have included in the show. Except it never got shot. Sting arrived at a photo shoot wearing a cashmere sweater, madras shorts and red high-top sneakers. “I couldn’t get my eyes around it,” she said. “When I was changing the film, I said, ‘Sting, get out of those clothes.’ I turned around and he was naked, except for the sneakers. I could not muster the nerve to take the photo.”
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Photo via Meghan McCarthy/Daily News