Art21 | In the studio: Buck Ellison
Jurrell Lewis—What drew you to portraiture as a way of making?
Buck Ellison—I switched from making still lifes to portraiture in my graduate thesis show at Städelschule, in Frankfurt. I showed one work, and it was a portrait of one of the students. I remember the difference in the way that portrait was received and the way that a still life was received. It hadn’t occurred to me that people really like to see themselves in other people. The engagement that allowed excited me because it felt like I could bring in a viewer on many different levels. That was a real turning point for me.
I moved to Los Angeles shortly after, and that’s when I began making the work that I think is more familiar as my work now—I’m not shying away from the power of reproducing another person. The discomfort in that is that I’m shy, I don’t like approaching people, and I’m sensitive toward the labor of the sitter and what my gaze does, all of those dynamics. But anytime I’m uncomfortable, I think, Okay, I’m doing something right.
I started working with actors and models, and that felt more interesting. There was this whole group of people who were open to coming over for four hours in the middle of the day for a project, while before it was difficult to find people to shoot. Anytime we see a face, we want to look again. Moving here allowed me to use portraiture, to use that engagement from the audience. I could start to use that to be able to do other things, to look at behaviors and patterns and to reveal little things. I don’t see them as dissimilar to the still lifes, they just have people in them.
Read the full interview here.