David Ellis

Perhaps David Ellis cherishes his privacy. Perhaps he considers the methodology of art more important than the man behind it. Perhaps he just doesn’t like to talk to strangers. Or perhaps, and we’re comfortable with this possibility, we just asked the wrong questions. Whatever the explanation, Ellis is particularly tight-lipped about personal matters. Fortunately his work speaks for him, in brain-wrenching visual bravado. “I’ve been painting music my whole life,” says the North Carolina native. Preferring a large-scale improvisational approach, the sweeping, sinister precision with which he paints maddened flora and fauna has the visual impact of crossing Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre with a particularly cold Panacea track. Menacing and beautiful. The impression isn’t a coincidence: He often incorporates live percussive and musical elements in his pieces, using analog drum machines, turntables, and homemade drums to propel them to brilliant multisensory experiences. With The Barnstormers, the Tokyo- and New York–based collective of multidisciplinary artists he founded in ’99, he produces film and performance projects, as well as immense painting collaborations. Not ones to restrict themselves to the confines of the gallery space, as their name would suggest, The Barnstormers artists’ outdoor projects include a block-wide concept piece for the “Spread the Know” campaign in Philadelphia, truck murals throughout NYC, and an ongoing barn mural project in Cameron, North Carolina. Considering Ellis’ impressive New York alma mater, Cooper Union, known for turning true talent on to the unconventional approach, his progress upward and outward isn’t surprising. Self-describing his role in music and art as “crate digger,” he takes the over-looked and makes it powerful.