Ellen Cornett

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In the spring and summer of 2014 I was a contestant in a tongue-in-cheek reality competition at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. To my surprise, after three elimination rounds, I had won it and was crowned Project America's Next Top Master Artist. The win was lovely, and came with a check and a solo show at Brentwood in September 2015. I had to supply my own tiara.


Brentwood director, Phil Davis, encouraged (insisted?) that I step outside my comfort zone of colorful, pastel paintings and do something bigger and more dangerous for the show. 


I stressed for several months over what that could/would be and how I'd execute something new and big. I began with this diptych, The Witch and the Horseshoe (below).


And then a triptych of The Juniper Tree (below). From left the panels are: My Mother, She Killed Me; My Father, He Ate Me; and My Sister, She Gathered My Bones.


Phil wanted me to do a really large piece onsite as well. My studio practice is  solitary. I work out problems alone, without scrutiny. If a piece is failing, I toss it in the recycling—everything that makes it out my studio door is finished to my satisfaction. And suppose I couldn't finish it in the three weeks allotted to show installation? The whole thing seemed fraught and doomed.


I went on vacation in July with the intention of sitting by the side of a lake and figuring out what and how I was going to create a piece of public art at the end of August. And thankfully, while I doodled in my sketchbook, I had the idea for The Bloody Battle (below). It's the scene from a Grimm's tale called The Wren and the Bear in which the four-footed forest creatures square off against the flying ones. The epiphany was to use friends and family as models for the bodies and crown them with appropriate heads. 



On Friday, August 21 we stapled a 10' sheet of drawing paper to a long wall at Brentwood. On Saturday, August 22, armed with charcoal, stumps, kneaded erasers,  iPhone tuned to old rock and roll, and a stepstool I started drawing. I worked from upper left to lower right to control the fall of the charcoal dust and to keep from smearing what I've already finished with the side of my hand.  


And as I worked the miracle happened. I began to get into the groove, meeting the challenges of the myriad textures, joyfully smearing charcoal along the paper to create a gray, watching the dust lift off the paper and float. The next two weeks were blissful. I stood there for 4-6 hours a day, and could not wait to get back the next morning. It was finished in two weeks. I think this piece has been a game-changer for me. What that means  is not yet clear, but I know that, for the moment, I am stuck with black, white and gray. No color for me, thank you. And I am thinking hard maybe trying out a studio space away from my home. 


It feels appropriate that a piece I stressed over so much and which felt like a battleground for me in some ways would be about a battle. 

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