Ellie Rex is hands-down one of the nicest people I’ve ever crossed paths with. When it comes to talent, her psychedelic art continues to gain popularity as it takes viewers to a place of visual mastery and perceptual depth. Between our first conversation in November of 2015 to the date of this post, she was placed on the bill alongside famous collage artists in San Francisco for a recent show, has been signed to a Phoenix gallery for representation, and has a solo show in the works for April. Beyond impressive and rightfully deserved! She’s also undeniably gorgeous.
Featuring Ellie Rex leaves me shamelessly giddy. Read on and you’ll see why.
Ellie Rex! Tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Danielle, but my closest friends call me Ellie. I was born in Dallas, Texas. When I was 7, after my parents got divorced, I moved with my mother and baby sister to the small town of St. George, Utah. In my early adolescence, I began collecting images and constructing collages, although I was not yet familiar with the term ‘collage.’ I did not know exactly what I was making or why but the process felt cathartic. I had limited access to materials, basically collaging anything I could find from used newspapers and cardboard to broken glass and rocks on the ground. After awhile, I secretly cut photos from books out of my mother’s encyclopedia. Once she found out she was not happy with me (!), although we laugh about it now because she understands that was part of my discovery of art. I now exhibit what I call ‘psychedelic’ mixed media collages and paintings in galleries, in addition to designing album cover artwork.
Your art is wonderfully ethereal and bold. How do you take your mind to such a psychedelic level?
Thank you for the compliments! ‘Ethereal’ is one of my favorite adjectives. I’m pretty sure my mind is in a permanent state of ‘dreamy,’ or curiosity, and that’s where the psychedelia comes into play. A lot of people assume I’m just really into psychedelic drugs, and while I’m not at all opposed to people expanding consciousness, there’s no way I would be able to keep my sanity in dropping THAT much LSD. I sincerely just prefer to construct dream-worlds from corners of my mind… or simply things I’ve never seen before.
What led you to favor epoxy resin? Do you use it for its physical benefits (like its durability) or is it for more artistic reasons?
Like most artists, I was (and still am) working to achieve some type of breakthrough and wanted to take my paper collages to the next level. I quickly realized epoxy resin was the answer for me. It’s certainly durable, but an incredibly difficult and toxic medium. Upon my first pour, the resin seemed to instantly make the collage come to life in a sense. I’m in love with the glossy, glass-like aesthetic, and in layering the resin, the collage truly pops and turns 3-D. I’ve studied the work of Sebastian Wahl, Fred Tomaselli and Dustin Yellin. They are all masters of 3-D collage who inspire me to continue to take things further.
Speaking of taking things far, I learned about your college counseling incident through Forth Magazine. At this point, you’ve become a self-taught professional now capable of teaching others. After being put off from creating art, what made you return to it?
After moving to Los Angeles a decade ago, I worked a series of jobs while going to college off and on. I found myself climbing up the corporate ladder doing Human Resources in the Internet/Technology industry. Many people would classify this as a ‘real job’ as I was making a substantial salary and had a 401k plan, vacation time, etc. while in my 20’s. Regardless, I felt inadequate. “Is this it? There’s seriously more to life than money and prospective job security.”
Ironically, the company I was working for at the time went out of business- I had to lay off a number of wonderful people, some of whom had become close friends, in multiple offices and sell every stick of furniture, get out of leases, close out benefits plans, tie up all the loose ends. I literally wrote my own severance letter. Every day was emotionally draining and when I’d return home from work in the evenings, I found myself painting and making collages again. I was familiar with art therapy but it was an unconscious decision to once again create art. The process of catharsis repeatedly pulled me in. I thought, “Finally, utilizing my creativity is what I want to do with my life.”
A progressive artist trapped in a small town is usually a horror story in the making. How do you feel that it has influenced your style?
Ha! How true is that? Unabashedly, I can say that my entire life has been a process of trying to make something out of nothing, which is easy to do when you’re a creative who’s living somewhere without much happening. The way I see it is you can A) become a byproduct of your limited surroundings and surrender to ineptitude, or B) take action and mold your life into what you want! It sounds obvious but it isn’t easy for a lot of people. I’m stubborn, myself. But also severely independent, and grew up fast in helping my (at the time) single mom out with my younger sister.
Utah is a gorgeous state, but incredibly boring and ultra-conservative. I did not fit in there. My sister and I are both racially-mixed with different fathers, which often brought on discrimination and/or judgement from others in this small town. I was the ‘alternative kid,’ skateboarding, listening to underground music, and making art or mini movies with my friends.
I don’t know how it is now, but the community I grew up in was pretty conformist. For awhile, my crazy uncle would make me go to the Mormon/LDS Sunday school, which I repeatedly got kicked out of for arguing that their teachings didn’t make sense to me. I always say to each their own, life is too short to not strive to do what you want, but when I was young what I wanted was something bigger and better with more culture and opportunity.
I can see how those experiences could add a certain complexity to your work. Basquiat was a very complex artist as well, and it showed. I also noticed you mentioned that you appreciate his art not being too clean. What is the most attractive element to you regarding his work? The aesthetics or his messages?
I appreciate both- Basquiat’s aesthetics and messages, and the way they flow together. I am mostly attracted to the scratchy rawness of his work. He was someone who painted from within. It was profoundly expressive. On that note, lately I have been studying surrealist automatism, or automatic drawing and painting. Developed by the surrealists, it’s the concept of allowing your hand to move randomly across a paper or canvas, so rational control is freed and you express your subconscious. The surrealists suggest that to achieve or get closer to those creative ‘breakthroughs,’ this technique must be used. I’m not 100% subscribed to this idea but it’s very compelling. I think about musicians jamming or writers free-writing and it makes sense – a lot of the best ideas stem from something that came about seemingly naturally.
What are some of the other things/people that inspire you?
Music and musicians, reading, traveling, environmental activism. I’m especially into spreading awareness of climate change. I also have a personal project I’m working on of educating neighbors in my community on the benefits of recycling and picking up after their litter. It’s a HUGE problem where I live in Westlake, near MacArthur Park/Downtown Los Angeles. I’m very influenced by anyone who wants to educate, become educated, or make a positive impact on the planet.
I’m also very into outsider artists, and really art of all kinds- especially visual art. Lately, it’s Magritte and surrealism, or anything dream-like. I get a lot out of seeing exhibitions and visiting museums and galleries. I feel like most of what I’m into is reflected in my work, a mix between old and new. I love following what’s going on in the contemporary art world as I watch documentaries and hear interviews with the old masters. It’s a never-ending stream of learning, and I feel like that’s what life is supposed to be like. We’re all works in progress.
Personally, do you seek to convey messages or just live in the moment of the creation?
Typically, for me, a collage is 70% completed in my brain and the rest happens along the way as I’m working, but I do absolutely seek to convey messages. It’s great. There have been people at my art shows who truly understand some of the pieces just by reading the titles and looking at the work for a few minutes. I think most people, though especially introverts like me, delight in someone taking a particular interest in them or whatever they’re creating. It can be difficult to openly speak about your work unless prompted. I was talking to a filmmaker friend yesterday who said he intentionally doesn’t discuss what his films are about because he doesn’t want to ruin it for the viewer or their interpretation. For me, it’s enough just to bring a viewer into the piece, meaning to transport them mentally to another space.
Your album cover art is full of vintage flair and contemporary style. Are you finding yourself designing covers for musicians within a specific genre?
So far, every musician or band I’ve worked with has been drastically different- from pop to indie/folk to psych-rock. I think that is fantastic. I’m open to working with anyone as long as our ideas vibe. I have turned down a couple offers now, but mostly because, like with anyone, you just know when it isn’t a match.
My favorite part of the process is if/when the work gets pressed to vinyl- seeing it as a bigger, tangible object in this all-too digital age is very exciting and legitimate to me. I also personally believe music sounds better and warmer on vinyl, so it becomes even more of an experience in checking out the music. I recently finished album artwork for synth-pop artist, Cellars, produced by Ariel Pink. I sincerely think both of these people are musical geniuses, and it was my first gatefold design. I’ll be pretty stoked when the record comes out in early 2016!
Like music, color is powerful enough to change moods and you make perfect use of color. Do you personally have a favorite color?
I used to say brown because I love the tones of tree bark and wood in general, but truthfully, my favorite color is blue. The Earth is mostly blue. I painted my bedroom a deep dark blue, my car is blue, I love turquoise and denim, and my mood (obviously) is blue. 😉
I love how your views and preferences are so in tune with your environmental principles. Earth’s creation and existence is truly a magical thing. On that note, what is your favorite creation of art you have at the moment?
I’m currently working on a series of paintings that look like geodes or agate, but with actual crystals growing from the pieces. The process is taking on more of a sculptural element, but also layered in resin, giving off extra dimension. I call them my ‘psychedelic rocks.’ I’m still working it out, but every day in the studio is a day well spent to me.
A fair warning: If you go to her Instagram page (@ellierex), you may end up stuck there for a while.