Artist Spotlight: David Craig Ellis
Artist David Craig Ellis discusses his new book "Doing Lines with David Craig Ellis: Volume 3"
Innovation comes in many forms. Meet the creative minds inspiring others through art.
Brooklyn-based artist David Craig Ellis has lived a life that would make for any great movie plot. From burning down a classroom at 11, to being a member of a gang and then a rock band, his life is filled with unbelievable stories. This week he launches the third installment of his book series Doing Lines With Craig Ellis: Volume 3. It is filled with drawings from stream of consciousness and filled with symbolism. This volume is dedicated to New York artist Rick Prol. We sat down with Ellis to talk about his artwork, his latest book and his legendary life.
Tell us about the concept for the book series to begin with.
Well, a few years ago there was a trend in which exact scanned replicas of artists drawings, doodles and actual physical pieces of their history was transformed into these incredible books where you could see inside the mind of the artist as far as their process, their personality and even their imperfections. The Basquiat book was just basically an exact replication of his notebooks, with sketches, ideas, scribbles and notes. I could just imagine him looking at his notes and realizing he was to meet Diago on Bleeker St at La Strada, or whatever it was. The Warhol book had perfect reproductions of things like his report card, hospital bills and postcards people had sent him. So, becoming obsessed with being “taken there” by this dose of reality, I thought it would be fun to reproduce my morning drawings, good or bad, my morning pages and my rough ideas, warts and all. Even if they’re only important to me. Plus, it’s a really easy way to put out books – the work is already done.
What sets this most recent volume apart from the others?
Volume 3 is really no different than the others. There are 8 volumes in total so far, in the can, ready to be published. They’re a collection of thousands of drawings compiled from public school up to the present, in no particular order. I don’t think anything I’ve done over the past year is any more important or any better, for that matter, than anything I did in grade 8, so they all make the cut.
Why did you decide to dedicate this volume to the artist Rick Prol?
I’ve always been a fan of Rick since the early 90’s. He was one of the New York artists who in a way taught me the freedom to add a caption or a word or something out of the ordinary with impunity that may or may not make sense to others. His was some of the first work that when I witnessed it, especially in person, made me realize “ya, you can actually do what the fuck you want, and if you mean it and stand behind it, it’s your art.” It doesn’t have to be a perfect portrait or a mountain stream, just invent your own world. It’s about owning your style. I vividly remember these revelations from a studio visit in the early nineties when he was on 6th st and Ave B. Then, for the past few years, following his work online, it’s just a never ending stream of beautiful work.
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
For the viewer, since I’m referencing people places and things from my entire history, I hope they’ll recognize something and feel included. Everyone I’ve ever met, everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve ever done is incorporated into these sketches, whether I’m cognizant of it or not…
You said there were hidden clues throughout the book. Can you elaborate on that?
The messages and themes throughout can be obvious. If you’re in the know when it comes to rock and roll, or addiction, or even witchcraft, you will immediately get certain aspects that may have spilled out of my subconscious at that moment in time. For example, if you were there, at Marla’s party, back in high school, when I crawled under the kitchen table, intoxicated, you may be transformed back in time by a triggered buried memory. For some reason, that moment spilled out onto a page during a strong cup of coffee a few months ago…
You have lived quite the life. Tell us how your experiences have shaped your artwork.
I surprisingly have a very good memory. Memories of my experiences flow out onto the page or the canvas with ease due to my spiritual practice, my prayer and meditation. 20 years ago, when first getting sober, I had a guru named Gene who was in a constant state of meditation, living above the mind, day and night. He taught me how to meditate, he gave me my mantra which I still use to this day and he lent me a copy of From Medication To Meditation which helped me to get off of booze and drugs. With Gene’s help, I was able to capture the freedom I enjoyed with hard drugs and apply it to my life work on a daily basis.
What is your life like these days compared to your past?
Thirty years ago, in Toronto, I was on the streets, panning for change on Queen St with the punk rockers and walking across town to get a free sandwich and a Twinkie from the SallyAnne. These days, instead of sleeping in a park or couch surfing, I have a little shack in the Hudson Valley that I can call home. I take care of an outdoor black cat named Midnight and turn my attention to her and attempting to help others, instead of only me me me. I have a bigger studio now in Brooklyn where I can create several projects at once including silk screening, painting or just taking aggression out on a set of drums. I have a lot of love in my life and I attempt to take better care of myself. Although I do still possess vices, they’re not liable to kill me. In this day and age the most dangerous substance I’m putting into my body is a non lethal mixture of Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.