The art of David Ellis

David Ellis for UK Vibe

I first heard about David Ellis in ‘The Run Up’ film, which was a series of artist documentaries produced by Upper Playground in 2009. David’s work has roots steeped in urban aesthetics and hip-hop influences yet this work holds its own in any contemporary gallery or in the streets. Ellis’s work makes a rare crossover, appealing to a wider artistic discipline like sculpture, installation art, sound, painting and film/motion painting and the ephemeral.

The unique Ellis has co-exhibited and collaborated with many diverse artists like Doze Green and Blu.

There’s something lost in painting when your are presented with the finished article, to witness Ellis rhythmically applying strokes of paint is as engaging as the final works themselves, this element similar to Jazz forms an important aspect to his motion painting.


Ellis’s work remixes familiar objects from double basses to trees and morphing them inside out and given fresh new roles, I cant help feeling there’s a strong/musical hip hop influence here, I would love to know more.

Q. Where are you from originally, what was it like growing up there?

A. Cameron N.C. A region of the state known as the Sandhills/Piedmont. Not the mountains or beach – Middle of the state, near Sandford, Fayetteville, Southern Pines, Carthage, Vass.

I went to Union Pines High School for first two years of High School. Cameron is also the home of the professional wrestlers the HARDY BOYZ. We used to play baseball in elementary school and on a homemade field their dad Gib helped us make in a tobacco field near their house.

They were a couple years younger than me and good friends with my baby brother John Ellis, a Jazz musician of the highest calibre. He and I both live in Brooklyn, NY now. Our parents still live in NC near Winston Salem. John and I also both went to ncsa for high school in Winston – a multidisciplinary art, music drama dance film school. I’m rarely ever there these days but I love it!

Q. Where are you based at the moment?

A. bkln (Brooklyn)

Q. Does working in different environments/spaces effect the work you create?

A. Travel awakens the senses and ignites what your soul already has an affinity for. It happens physically and digitally but time/space travel is crucial in sharpening the spiritual swords in the tool kit.

Q. Which artists have inspired you to get into art?

A. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Roc, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK.


Q. There is a passion for the letter form running through out your work over the years, can you say a couple of words about how text/lettering/writing features in your work? Where does that originate?


Q. Do you make your own music? Play any instruments?

A. YES X2 and I make most of the instruments I play on.


Q. Vinyl records and turntables crop up in your work often (exhibition at (Le) Poisson Rouge) in some of your works is there a special connection there?

A. I’m DJ/rapper/bboy/singer/actor/filmmaker since 85.

Q. I hope no good records were damaged in ‘Recollection’ series?

A. Plenty were sacrificed but I have multiple copies…

Q. What about Tree’s I see them in your work is there a story there?

A. I am a tree…
I climb them
I grew up in a log cabin
People I love survived family members being hung from them.
Jesus was crucified on two,
I draw and paint on wood and paper
I just visited one in Taipei that is over 2,600 years old.
Green faces printed on their minted pulp never got my vote.


Q. How did the Run Up project come about?

A. My friend from way back, the artist and director Joey Garfield, who worked on ‘Style Wars’, when they dropped the revisited stuff put me on. He was following a few projects I was on for almost a year and put it all together as part of the Run Up. He caught a few real pivotal moments.

Q. Have you exhibited here in the UK?

Black Rat with Swoon and Monica C, Mother with Doze and Rostarr… some others. Some that don’t exist anymore – They should all be on the CV!

Q. What are your thoughts on the importance of collaboration?

A. I like bands as much as a dude and a piano or a guitar.

Q. Would you recommend artists to get out and join forces?

A. If they feel it. To each their own.

Q. How did the ‘Shaft Project’ come about and what was it like working with Doze Green?

A. D is my man, one of the very best of the best. We shared a studio in Brooklyn for years. He’s a big brother from another ma.

Q. Where did the idea for painting inside a lift shaft come about?

A. We were approached by an industrial designer Scott Vandervoort, who lives in the building. We did it for peanuts knowing we had the book option in the works and it worked out.


Q. How do you see your work developing in the future?

A. No idea. It drives I’m the co-pilot.

Q. Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

A. Not really, maybe, sure, I guess. I colab with people when it flows in that direction. Its not premeditated. None of it.

Q. What are you listening to at the moment? Can you give us an idea of a current David Ellis playlist?

A. Sun Ra, ODB, Velvet Underground, ACDC, Kiss, Helado Negro, Kanye, Frank Ocean, Willie Nelson, BDP, Poor Righteous Teachers, Tribe, Last Poets and Gil, Fela, Abstract Banana Peels, P-Funk, Bob Marley, Donny Hathaway, Turtleman, John Ellis, Gunshy Ramblers, WRBC, WNEB pirate radio, old cassettes from 80’s radio, Bob Dylan, Sister Nancy, The Ocean, birds in the morning, my stomach.


Q. How has the experience been working with galleries and having them support your work?

A. They all vary but rarely do I think they deserve the whole 50% cut they think their entitled to. There have been exceptions. I work primarily with them. Communication is key.

Q. Can you give any advice to artists hoping to break it on the scene?

A. Another is no scene. It’s all there in the backyard for you to rock at any time. Don’t make excuses. Follow your desire, your will, your deepest fantasies and run it. It’s like Nas and TLA Rock – both say ours is yours.

game rec game
have fun

Mark Wallace

Astral Travelling Since 1993