Dodd is a bright and fabulous woman who’s life-long love of art has generated both large-scale, encapsulating, tactful paintings—as well as simple, yet complex smaller works that demonstrate the components and departed layers of her gestural attributions. Framed together or individually, these works on paper are so satisfying and claim intrigue.
Read on to learn more about the Ellen Levine Dodd, her artwork and her remarkably adventurous life thus far!
Hometown: Winthrop, Massachusetts
When did you start your career in art? How long have you known you wanted to be an artist?
I started drawing and painting as soon as I could hold a crayon, pencil and brush. As a child, a stack of paper and a pencil or paintbrush would entertain me for hours. I was given my first watercolor paint set at 4. I started doing photography at age 8 with my ‘Brownie’ camera. I’ve always loved looking at and doing art, and lucky for me, my family always supported and encouraged me. I took art classes all through school and I went to Clark University on an art scholarship. When I was graduating from Sonoma State University in California, the assistant director of the SFMOMA was giving a talk, and said,” 10 years from now only 2 of you will be practicing your art professionally.” I looked around the crowded courtyard and wondered who the other person would be.
Describe your aesthetic in three words: colorful expressive gestural.
Describe your artistic process and preparation?
I always have music playing when I paint. I usually start by working on small watercolor and mixed media studies as a warmup exercise to work out ideas for color palettes and compositions. On the larger painting I work intuitvely without directly copying from my studies. The initial under-layers of wild colors and experimental shapes will be edited and refined as the painting develops.
The next stage is built up with oil and cold wax mixed with various mediums, charcoal, graphite, oil pastels, oil sticks, and wax crayons, colored pencils. Whether using acrylic or oils the painting is built up with multiple layers of paint, scratching into the surface, drawing on top, painting over and obscuring, or glazing to create a veiled look. When the painting is finished I work hard to find the right words for the title that add insight into the story told visually by the brushstrokes.
Favorite piece you’ve painted to date and why?
One favorite is “The water is deeper than what it reflects.” I love the range of blues in it, and the depth created by the lighter shapes floating over the darker underlayers. For me it expresses the spirit of challenge and struggle, to keep on covering up layers with new layers until it feels right.
My other favorite is an older piece, “King Kong In The Garden Of Eden”, one of my first abstract paintings and a turning point for me in developing ‘my voice’. There is both truth and a sense of humor in the title. King Kong had indeed been stomping around my Garden of Eden when it was painted and it is a lesson to me that painting through my emotions is always a better way to handle difficult situations.
Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?
Personally, I am inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Serena Williams and Helen Keller. All 3 women are courageous enough to get back up on the horse no matter how many times they fall off, who have applied the focus, dedication, and hard work to their goals, fighting until they succeed, and who are willing to work to make the world a better place not only for themselves but for all others.
…and Elizabeth Murray who inspires me with her courage to allow her structural paintings to not have to be conventionally beautiful in an expected way.
What challenges do you think exist in the world of fine art?
There are many challenges in the world of art. The one that affects me most personally is the inequality that women in the art world have faced for centuries, the challenge to have our work taken as seriously as our male peers. I realized that each time I was asked who my favorite artists are, I named male artists. I challenged myself to start naming women, who I both respected for their work as well as the struggles they overcame to have their art shown and recognized.
How do you approach/overcome them?
When I feel undermined or frustrated with the unfairness in the world, I get back up and keep on painting for myself, being glad that I have the resources to keep going.
Biggest accomplishment to date (personally or professionally)?
One of my most exciting accomplishments is to have my work collected by Kaiser Permanente Hospitals and Sloan Kettering where patients need a dose of positive creativity to ease their struggles.
Favorite location to paint/what is your studio like?
I love painting in my studio in Old Town Novato, a short drive from my home. There is a large painting wall, a number of large tables, and the lighting is wonderful. I have space for my etching press and printing table, stacks for paintings, and a dedicated space to photograph my art, as well as a separate office space with room for my computer and my 54” Roland inkjet printer.
A random fact about you:
I love adventure. I’ve been an avid windsurfer and kayaker. At 20 I spent a year traveling, motorcycling through England and Scotland, taking the Eurail up to Lapland, and working on a kibbutz in Israel for 6 months.
Favorite place to vacation? And/or dream trip?
Anywhere by the ocean is my favorite place to vacation. I love Cape Cod, nearwhere I grew up in Massachusetts, and Sea Ranch in California, near where we live now. My dream trip would be to spend time in the South Pacific islands, and then travel to New Zealand.
What are you currently reading?
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, and Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.
What are you currently listening to?
My taste in music is eclectic. Currently I am listening to Glen Gould play Mozart. But a short time ago I was playing a Leonard Cohen station on Pandora radio.
What would you be doing if you were not an artist?
I cannot imagine not being an artist, but if not I would be an architect.
One thing you couldn’t live without?
I’m addicted to my iPad, with all my books, music, and a place to sketch all easy to take with me. If not my iPad, it would be a sketchbook and a mechanical pencil.
If you could switch lives with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I’ve thought about this, but I’ve always been truly content being myself and don’t think I would want to give up even one day of being me.
Your all-time favorite artist and/or your favorite emerging artist?
… and Helen Frankenthaler…
My dream commission would be a large scale mural in a public space where my art would be able to communicate and influence an attitude of positive affirmation of life.
What do you want your audience to know about your work?
My art is an extension of my life. I work hard and spend over10 hours a day in my studio.
What makes your work unique?
My work is honest, emotional and primitive with bursts of raw energy derived from my gestural markmaking.
Name one goal for your career you’d like to achieve in the next 5 years:
In addition to my painting, I’ve been wanting to start teaching art workshops in my new studio. I’d like to partner with a foundation in order to find a way to bring more art education to the community.
In Tandem is currently on display and will be up though October 19th.
—Written by, Sophie Lane at ANFA Gallery