For One Night Only
Tom Ireland and I invited Ellis to spend some time in Blackpool and to put together a show in response. Tom is a Blackpool native and I spent the majority of my childhood in a small town a couple of miles away, so we were keen to see an outsider - a Canadian artist/critic who lives in London - take on the town.
For One Night Only:
Patricia Ellis packs a lot of information onto a tiny surface. Her wonky shop-bought canvases burst with the all the colour and life of momentary, costume-clad escapism – a permanent reminder of a split-decision snapshot, converting a throwaway memory into something endearingly enduring.
Ellis is fascinated by individual expressions of celebration and recreation. The chosen free-time pursuits of a given group of people is often an extremely niche thing; the couple of free hours on a weekend to indulge a particular passion are not to be wasted, and so must be entered into with dedication and gusto. The strange (to an observer) ritual and skewed preciseness of these activities is something to be admired rather than ridiculed.
In a way, these images convey a longing to join in, to be part of the gang. The characteristics of the self-made tribes captured in these paintings are such that an outsider can easily dismiss them with a mocking laugh, but their strength of identity is a force to be reckoned with. A bunch of girls on a hen night may go through any number of drink-induced, tearful, arm-flailing in-fights about looking at one another’s boyfriends the wrong way, but God have mercy on any non-group member that gets on the bad side of a 15-strong cohort of fully-accessorised French maids.
Ellis’ tributes to the particularity and peculiarity of leisure-time ceremony are affectionately off-balance. She reveals the freedom in being sick outside a theme pub and for it not to matter because this is a holiday in Blackpool and all bets on social niceties are off; she displays the ability of a regular office worker from Bolton to cavort on a table-top for one night only; she shows the satisfaction of a teenager getting a trim surrounded by a wallpaper of soft porn. These are small victories for those involved, unexpected wish-fulfilment that will be forgotten the next morning, but nonetheless triumphant. This is what Blackpool is great at, and this is what Ellis can transform into caricatures of boozy pride.
Yes, these paintings are funny, but they are not cruel. There is a naïve delight to be found in the gurning awkwardness of the faces and perspectively-challenged settings; in a way this is more honest. The faux-amateurism of the finished product – the off-square canvas, the sheen of straight-from-the tube acrylic and impossibly angled bodies – make for an entirely appropriate depiction of DIY entertainment and home-made culture. Ellis’ work functions in the same way: making a hobby out of other people’s hobbies, with all the attendant failure and almost-there-ness that entails, her paintings are the best kind of tribute – one that refuses to gloss over anything, leaving the portrait of her chosen subjects and scenarios complete and in full, badly-coordinated, colour.
© 2009 Fiona Shaw, all rights reserved