Monday, December 18, 2006

Art Space Talk: Ella Guru

I recently interviewed artist Ella Guru. Ella has had great creative success as a visual artist and musician. She was number one in the Indie charts with the group Voodoo Queens in 1993 and has also had success as a member of the Deptford Beach Babes, The Tasty Ones', and the Tropics of Cancer. Ella is able to transfer the same energy she has as a musician into her visual art. The end result is an eclectic blend of visual art that involves everything from reflections of the 'underground scene' to geese.

In 1999, she was one of the twelve founder members of the pro-painting Stuckists art group (London) and took part in demonstrations against the Turner Prize outside Tate Britain. She started the Stuckist web site, which has been key to spreading the movement worldwide.

She was a featured artist in the Stuckists' landmark show The Stuckists Punk Victorian at the Walker Art Gallery during the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. Her work has been shown in the Museum of Pop Culture, London, as well as in Germany, the United States, Australia, and Amsterdam.

Ella is known for her alternative "underground" life style and 'gender bending' paintings. She used to frequent fetish clubs as a dominatrix, and has a penchant for transvestites. The subject matter of her work often features such subjects, including many paintings of men and women wearing 1960s style beehive wigs. Although the content is frequently unorthodox, she paints in a "traditional" style.

Q. You were a founding member of the original Stuckist group. How did you meet Charles Thomson, Billy Childish, and the others?

A. "I met Billy around 1990, used to go and see his bands. I met Sexton Ming in 1996 (and married Ming in 2001). I met Charles through Sexton, at a Headcoats gig."

Q. I read that you started the Stuckist website. How many people
frequent the site? Do you have any idea how many Stuckists there are at this time? Can you give us a link?


Q. You took part in The Stuckists Punk Victorian exhibit. What was that experience like? Do you see other ground-breaking exhibits revolving around Stuckism in the future?

A. "I was giving birth during the private view. So I didn’t really get the full impact. I went up to do a talk, with the baby, and I saw the show then. It was amazing. To walk past Rembrandt and then see my own paintings. Like a dream come true. I hope to see more, sure. We just had one in the West End in London, not so big as the Walker but still something new. A private gallery and sparsely hung, not salon style. A good change."

Q. You were a member of the Voodoo Queens. In 1993 you were number one in the Indie charts. Has your music influenced your painting?

A. "Sure. I like to paint night life scenes. "Saturday night at the Windmill, Brixton" is of my band the Deptford Beach Babes playing a gig with another band called Naked Ruby. I’ve done a couple of paintings of Jane from Naked Ruby, she’s been a recent muse (image above)."

Q.What are your opinions about conceptual art?

A. "Most is crap. But not all. I’ve seen some good conceptual art from Israelis and Palestinians, specifically showing together. I don’t know why that is, that you have to be at war to make good conceptual art, but I would say pretty much all British conceptual art is crap. Lights turning on and off, unmade beds, bags of rubbish – I mean, how many times now have cleaners thrown art out cos they think it’s rubbish? It’s sooooo boring."

Q.Have you noticed an increased interest in figurative art in the last few years? Do you think this interest is directly linked to the efforts of Stuckism?

A. "yes and yes."

Q. You are married to Stuckist artist Sexton Ming. Have the two of you ever worked on art together? I would assume that there is a trade-off of artistic influence in your home.

A. "Yes. There is a section on my website called collaborations (image above and first image below.) with Sexton. Have a look. Thy are very popular and have sold better than either of our individual works."

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "The first time I can remember drawing non-stop like a maniac was on a 5 hour flight to Seattle when I was 4. I did first my oil painting when I was about 10. but to say that art would be ‘an important part of my adult life’, I have no idea when that was. I always wanted to ‘be an artist’, and spent very many years in miserable restaurant jobs. Art college is a bubble; it’s no preparation for the real world. The internet really saved a lot of creative people. Instead of slinging burgers we can now sit in front of computers."
Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon. Caravaggio. Van Gogh. Cindy Sherman. Andy Warhol. Frido Kahlo. Mary Harnet (friend I’ve collaborated with over the years). Edvard Munch. Pedro Almodavar. John Waters."

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "I grew up in horrible suburban Ohio, was bullied at school, and then went to vocational school to get away from the regular school that I hated. I studied commercial art and took lots of acid. Got a part scholarship to Art College where I took more acid and painted a lot and then got put down for painting and not doing conceptual art (so you see my "Stuckist" roots go back a long way.)

I went to London in 1987 – that is where the gender thing first started. Not being able to tell who was male or female; getting into drag queens, dressing up and so on. Went to New York for a bit, and back to Ohio for another stint – finished my degree at a University which was more stimulating than art college.

Art College was all inbred, you had to follow a style and idea. The University had visiting artists, plus it was a lot more interesting to hang around with all sorts of people, not just artists. I did my degree in fine art and photography; we had some wild times driving around this conservative town in drag and taking pictures.

Then I went to Florida to be a stripper and then back to London – by 1990 recession had kicked in and work was scarce. So the stripping continued, as did involvement in the fetish scene. Then I went to Africa. God this is long, so, maybe to cut it short, I’ll fast forward to 1996 when I met Sexton Ming and the drag thing started up again. That was a big influence on my work. But the past also influences me; 2 recent paintings of girls with snakes on their heads are of me and my friend and fellow stripper Elinor in 1990 ( . I also painted my aunt in male drag in the 1940s, from an old photo. ( I’m always interested in gender bending. Though ,interestingly, since the birth of my daughter I have painted more women. Still some guys in drag, too, and the women are always dressed up in some way, too. But it wasn’t a conscious decision; I just felt like painting more women."
Q. How long have you been a working artist?

A. "Since 1985 though I sold my first painting in 2000."

Q. On average, how long does it take you create one piece?

A. "These days, about 1-2 months."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I watch documentaries on tv or listen to radio 4. or talk with Sexton. Listen to the Tigerlillies."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "They like drag queens."
Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "OK let’s take the new one (image above). Its not on my website yet cos its too dark to take a photo of it. But it’ll be up soon. I went out to a club looking for inspiration. I know that sounds contrived. It used to be I’d go out and have fun and then by chance a picture would become a painting. But now that I have a baby, I don’t have much time or energy. So any night out is potential material.

In this case there was no one image from the night, so I made a collage of the night, like I did in "Saturday night at the Windmill Brixton." ( I made a montage of several people I saw that night, and positioned them in a way that I thought looked good. In the foreground was the friend I went out with that night. The guy with the pig’s nose wasn’t with us; I just thought he looked great. And the still life in the foreground is something I often do. I always paint the still life from life – I set up drinks and bottles. I’ve only just finished this painting, not even 100% sure of the title yet."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "Tradition. I painted with house paint for awhile but I like the more permanent and stable nature of oil."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "Bachelor of Arts degree. Not helped my career one bit. Unless enabling me to spend 5 years being self indulgent and making art counts."

Q. Where can we see more of your art?


Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "Quiet at the moment, though I do have some paintings and prints at the Modern Artists Gallery in Whitchurch-on-Thames. Just been in several shows, London, Liverpool and Hove. Still have some paintings up at 43 Molton Street, Tesco Disco (see"

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?


Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Because I can."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "There’s an interesting gallery in Gillespie Road Also the Aquarium has a new gallery in Farringdon. That’s all north London, UK."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "I wouldn’t say I really do political paintings, more like documenting a political event - I did some paintings of anti-war demonstrations in London (image above). And I organised an anti-war show at the London Stuckist gallery in 2003. "

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Ella Guru. Feel free to critique or discuss her art.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

wagnoir said...

Ella is an amazing artist.