Five Quick Questions with Ellen Granter

By Michelle Musili on October 17, 2019

In celebration of the new exhibitions we have on view at Co|So, we have a series of artist interviews throughout the next few weeks. Today, Ellen Granter, a Copley Master, tells us about her career as a graphic designer, how she knows that she’s done with a piece, and more.

1. When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

I think I was born one, and it took a while for me to allow myself to be one. When I was young, I made an arrogant assumption that pursuing an art education rather than a liberal arts education would leave me a poorly educated person. To reflect on this idea now makes me a little embarrassed because now I understand that to be a good artist is a hard job that requires you to exercise an honest analytical eye, travel widely, look at everything, read voraciously, and be sharp about what one lets in and out of your creative hands. I decided, after many years of being someone else’s “hands” as a graphic designer, that I no longer had the patience to submit to the dictates of a client’s tastes. I wanted to choose my own shades of blue, my own composition, my own focus.

Ellen Granter, Heaven is a Tree, oil on panel, 14×14”

2. If you could collaborate with any artist (living or deceased) who would it be and why?

I have never had much chance or inclination to collaborate closely with another artist. Your question made me think about why. Of course, I would love to sit and paint with some of my painting favorites, such as Joan Mitchell, Henri Matisse, or Edgar Degas, but for a creatively productive collaboration, I would choose a non-painter. If I could work on a muppet project with Jim Henson, or create clothing with Alexander McQueen, or make Wallace and Grommit movies with Nick Park I think collaboration could be wonderfully unpredictable.

Ellen Granter, Arcing, oil and metal leaf on panel, 26×26”

3. What does your art say about you?

I hope my art is more expressive about itself than it is expressive about me personally, but I suspect it is impossible to separate the two. If it does say something about me, hopefully, it shows what I am interested in and why those things are interesting. The color sensibilities I possess, and my preferences for making minimalistic compositions or other painting category descriptors, I seem to have little choice over. I cannot make myself paint with high toned lime, orange, or purple, nor with a palette of angsty blacks, so I guess my creative instinct has a stronghold over those choices. It doesn’t mean that my personality lacks angst or bright, high-keyed notes, just that I prefer not to paint those things. Creating a thing of beauty has always been paramount for me. I will continue to work the dissonant or ugly off the canvas until it’s “right” to my own eyes.

Ellen Granter, Impulse, oil on panel, 12×12”

4. What do you consider your most important tool when it comes to making art?

I could be flip and say “chocolate” which may actually be true, but I think the most important tool is probably your power of observation. It is a tool, much like a brush, a knife, a computer, or your hands. If you want to create something new, something good, you need to pay attention and be very observant. I like to think that each artist has observed a certain pathway, like a road, down which the more you travel, the more is there to see. The flip side of that is the actual doing. You can observe all you want, but unless you get busy making something, it remains just something interesting you saw and filed away, not something interesting you created.


5. How do you know when a work is finished?

A work is finished when I decide it’s time to move on. If I look at it and there is nothing about it that is burning my eyeballs, I put it aside for a while. When I bring it back out, if I still feel the same, it is done. In a way, each canvas is a continuation of the last one, so it never actually is over. It always leaves me with more iterations of an idea that I want to work on.


Ellen Granter’s work is on view at Co|So in Small Works and the Copley Masters show.