It is not hard to see why Jesika Ellis, 40, has her hands full. She’s an artist, the interim director of the University of Evansville’s two galleries, one of the founders of Evansville’s bi-annual YART event, and a married mother of two (Margo, 5, and June, 21 months). Yet her enthusiasm for her craft runs deep. A UE graduate with a bachelor of arts in art, Ellis avidly supports community efforts to bring local art to a wider audience — even if it means organizing a yard sale.
Do you remember when you first began to realize you had artistic talent?
I have to give my parents some credit because they framed a finger painting that I had done when I was probably 2 years old. It was in this large, beautiful frame that hung prominently in the house. My parents kept my work framed and around. They encouraged me or at least made me feel that my efforts were worthy of display. I’ve probably always considered myself an artist because my work was “on exhibit.” I still have the original framed piece. It’s one of my favorite pieces of art. (Now,) I almost work exclusively with acrylic paint, Sharpie marker, graphite, and charcoal.
How did you come to pick these materials?
Honestly, I do not know. An image is usually formed in my mind in some way, so I’m seeing what I need to be making, and if I can’t get the right texture, I just go through materials until it looks the way I’m envisioning it. A lot of these materials are to provide variation in the texture or different appearances of the line. So they are sitting around my desk, and I’ll just try them until it works. They seem to come together well.
Is your art primarily abstract?
It’s fairly abstract, although as I’ve gotten older there are more consistent elements and themes that are identifiable to most people — organic shapes, images that call to mind water, leaves, trees — things of that nature turn up again and again even if it’s abstract. Most people can usually find something like that in the pieces. My husband says I do Rorschach art because everybody sees something different.
Nature is a pretty big influence then?
I spend a lot of time looking at trees and birds and hiking — that’s where I prefer to be. I just have an affinity for that, which I think comes from my childhood. My grandparents had a huge plot of land in a village (Greenfield, Ind.) by a lake, and I spent a lot of time there when I was young. I think that’s always stayed with me. There’s so much diversity in light and form in nature. It’s very evocative. And obviously we’re all a part of nature. We’re drawn to seek it out if we don’t have enough of it.
What are your duties as interim director of UE’s Melvin Peterson Gallery and Krannert Hall of Fine Arts?
I’m responsible for taking in all of the art, meeting with the artist, making sure we handle the work appropriately, getting the work on the walls, getting the walls repaired if needed, helping facilitate an artist coming in or a talk that’s happening — pretty much anything that happens there, I can be a point person for that. But primarily it is to make sure the work is exhibited appropriately, safely, and beautifully.
It may be unusual for me as an artist that I almost enjoy exhibiting, showing, and helping to hang and display other people’s art as much as I like making my own. There’s so much satisfaction for me to put together a nice-looking show that people can come and appreciate without having to think about the display technicalities. I really love it.
I understand that you and your husband Toby are the founders of Evansville’s bi-annual YART event. What is it?
It’s essentially a yard sale for art. (It’s) a non-threatening, casual, fun way for artists who aren’t necessarily going to be represented in traditional venues, like a high-end gallery, to show their work. Because it’s in the yard and it’s so casual, we bring in an audience of people who may never have considered buying local art because they thought they couldn’t afford it or they didn’t know where to get it.
Philip Hooper, the City of Evansville director of metropolitan development, said recently, “YART is a gateway drug.” It’s a gateway that brings people to art. It’s original work — good work that meets our price point (under $30). A lot of times somebody will come and buy something and we’ll see them again the next time because they now have the bug. They want original art.
How many artists are involved?
We usually have about 25 artists per YART with a rotating group of about 40 artists we can choose from, but we do like to keep some spots open for new artists and new work. And we don’t charge the artists any fees. All we ask is that they bring a side dish to share for an artist potluck.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to start showing regionally a lot more. I need to be a little bit more serious about my exhibit goals. I’m not in it to be a famous artist or make a lot of money. I just want to make my art, show my art, and have it out there.
I’m also helping the Arts Council of Doom (a group of local artists — humorously inspired by the villainous Legion of Doom from ABC’s cartoon series, “The Challenge of the Super Friends” — who create opportunities for cooperative art events, exhibits, and opportunities outside the typical institutions.) I think the art community in Evansville has begun to be a lot more collaborative, which is a very good thing. I’m going to continue to support any effort that brings art to the wider community of Evansville.
This spring’s YART will take place April 13 at 532 S. Boeke Road. For more information, visit YART’s Facebook page. For information on University of Evansville’s galleries, visit www.evansville.edu.