Julie Ellis is a Plymouth-based painter who’s stunning artwork is rapidly causing a stir. Contributor Shayne House interviewed Julie at her workspace in Ocean Studios.
Julie Ellis grew up in Plymouth. As a child in the 1970s and 80s she had a strong desire to be creative. Like many students, both then and now, when it was time to leave school and think about further education, career advisors heavily influenced her decision. Rather than encourage her to follow her desire to be creative, she was dissuaded from attending art school. Instead Julie was advised to think about what job she was eventually going to do in order to earn a living. This set her on a path to finding, in her own words, “a proper job where I’ll earn some money” and so she trained as a hairdresser.
Fast-forward 25 years; Julie is now married with three children. A conversation in the school playground with a couple of other mums, one of whom was a mature student who had just graduated from Plymouth College of Art with a degree in Fine Art, led to Julie attending a Plymouth College of Art open day, soon after which she was enrolled on a level zero course. She describes that first year as, “A fantastic year, which gave me a taste of everything, but I was so confused, not knowing what to do because I really enjoyed doing everything on the course.”
Julie Ellis in her studio space at Ocean Studios (credit: Shayne House)
Julie’s work in progress (credit: Shayne House)
The Westcroft Gallery (credit: Shayne House)
Looking at Julie’s work, with its evocative nod to nature’s palette and textures that are positively Turneresque, it’s hard to imagine that when she made the decision to sign up for a degree in painting, drawing and printmaking, she had only ever worked in watercolour. It wasn’t until her second year that she was introduced to the complexities of painting with oils. She tells me there were many, “I didn’t like working with oil paints as it didn’t dry quickly enough for me, and it’s not the easiest material to do what you want it to do. I persevered though and I mastered my technique and I haven’t looked back.”
During this second year of Julie’s degree in 2015, she had her first ever exhibition; a group show at the Artmill in Hyde Park where she exhibited four paintings in the show, all of which sold.
Shortly after her group show, Julie secured a two-month residency at Maker Heights on the Rame Peninsula. It was here that she met internationally renowned artists Heath Hearn and Katy Brown. Hearn & Brown are both represented by Sarah and Dylan Mclees-Taylor, the owners of Westcroft Gallery which nestles amongst the ancient narrow streets of the coastal village of Kingsand. The gallery used to be an old stable block before it was boat shed, now it has a new lease of life as a gallery and artist in resident space, with it’s own apartment above the gallery where artists can stay. Sarah & Dylan explain that they’re motivated to promote and enable artists that are living and working in Devon & Cornwall, as well as encouraging well-known artists to come to Westcroft to paint.
Sarah & Dylan’s introduction to Julie resulted in her work being included in a group show at Westcroft Gallery alongside Hearn, Brown and other acclaimed artists. Ellis exhibited eight paintings which all sold. Following this success Julie was given her first solo show at Westcroft Gallery, in the spring of 2016. It was here that I met with Sarah & Dylan, who explained that each exhibition coincides with a school holiday because that’s when people come to the village to stay, many of which are actively looking to buy contemporary art.
If you’ve ever felt intimidated by entering a gallery, or have never stepped foot inside one before, then walking through the doors of Westcroft Gallery is a treat. It challenges people’s perceptions of a gallery. Visitors are warmly welcomed into a friendly environment. It’s easy on the eye, with a subtle use of colour painted on a few walls, the use of everyday objects such as a sofa and home wares, which enable visitors to envisage how paintings might look in their own home.
Eighteen of Julie’s paintings were hung for her solo show ‘The Pleasures of Melancholy’ at Westcroft and at the time of writing, 13 had sold, with the expectation of the remaining to be sold before the end of the show. Julie is only in her third year of studying for her degree. To have a solo show and to sell out is a remarkable achievement in itself and testament to Julie’s artistic aptitude. Julie has since made links with Ocean Studios and negotiated a studio space where she now paints full time. She’s highly appreciative of the support she has received from fellow artists, her representatives, Plymouth College of Art, her family and everyone that has bought her paintings. Julie explained, “It means so much to me that people love my paintings and want to buy them, and that they’ll take on another life inside someone else’s home.”
The Westcroft Gallery (credit: Shayne House)