Very Valerie Ellis (Valerie Ellis) is a visual artist of British and Australian nationality specialising in abstract expressionist oil paintings and works on paper. Ellis' style has evolved from more strict representational still life and portraiture towards abstract art and conceptual art reflecting her former career as a psychotherapist.
Ellis was born in November 1969 in Adelaide, Australia to parents previously married in and emigrated from the UK. When she was 6, Ellis' parents divorced and her mother took her back to England to live with grandparents. Both grandparents and mother were harsh critics and quick to denigrate leaving Ellis with emotional stress.
Ellis graduated from Park Barn Secondary School in 1984 with the highest mark for an art examination in the country. Despite gaining entry to Epsom College of Art to study fashion, Ellis emigrated back to Australia to live with her father. This relationship failed quickly leaving Ellis living with strangers and flatmates for years until entry to The University of Queensland to study psychology. Ellis graduated from University in 1995 with an honors degree in psychology. Her thesis was on the topic of attribution theory. In the year following graduation, Ellis married the US/Australian citizen, Charles Barber.
After graduation from The University of Queensland, Ellis worked for Queensland Corrective Services Commission as a community corrections officer - case-managing probationers and parolees. Thereafter, she started a private practice in the western suburbs of Brisbane serving mostly women going through divorce and re-partnering.
In 2000, Ellis and her husband divorced and she moved to Maleny in the Sunshine Coast area for three years and then back to Brisbane's eastern suburb, Bulimba. At that time, Ellis returned to her artistic origins, started an interior design business, then a scarf design business and also developed her ability to paint still life subjects in oil paint. In 2019 she completed a graduate diploma in business. She also published a book of relationship advice, "Compatibility: 8 Pillars of Lasting Love" in 2019.
Back to England
In 2019, Valerie Ellis moved back to the UK, 30 years after leaving as a teenager. She moved to the Surrey town of Leatherhead and then Weybridge, establishing a studio dedicated to developing an art practice. In 2020, the painting "Beauty and Determination" was selected into the ING Discerning Eye exhibition for that year by celebrity art-collector Beverley Knight. This success reflected a focus on painting portraiture after which Ellis developed an interest in post impressionist and abstract art from the 1930's - 1970's.
In 2021, the "Touch Me" collection of abstract expressionist oil paintings (painted in 2020) went on display at Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London. The show was attended by the London Art Critic, Tabish Khan, the author of the Salterton Arts Review, Erin Caswell of Christies Auction House and a director of a prominent London gallery who acquired one of her charcoal drawings. In 2021, the "First Impressions" series of works on paper debuted at The Other Art Fair presented by Saatchi Art in The Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. This series of framed pastels and charcoals were symbolic representations of people wounded by their childhood - pieces of paper crumpled and then smoothed with charcoal-covered hands to represent the way childhood treatment effects people for the rest of their lives - "a topography of hurt". The First Impressions series was the first really explicit combination of Valerie Ellis' career in art and career in psychology.
Influences & Style
Ellis identifies her influences as the New York school of abstract expressionism, the post-impressionist Chaim Soutine, Franz Kline, and Frank Auerbach for their painterly style. Also, for the extent of their personal ambition and social impact, Paula Rego, Helen Frankenthaler and Cecily Brown.
References ^ Ellis, Valerie (2019). "Compatibility: 8 Pillars of Lasting Love". VERY VALERIE ELLIS
An early impressionist figure painting was selected by famous singer Beverly Knight for the ING Discerning Eye exhibition of 2020
Debut solo exhibition at Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London showing the Touch Me series of abstract expressionist oil paintings.
"A refreshing take on the theme of touch and connection from an Australian artist in London. Valerie Ellis is one to watch."
Director's pick for the Other Art Fair, London, 2021, sponsored by Saatchi Art. Showcasing 100+ emerging artists. Pieces were acquired by collectors in the UK and USA.
"People have natural talents. As a therapist of 20 years this fact becomes very obvious when you listen to the stories of enough people. It’s also true that those who fulfil their talent are happier and more successful than those who do not. Mine is art. I was the child at school who was asked by other children for a drawing. At home, I spent most of my time making something-or-another; little sculptures from dough or candle wax, paintings, drawings and arrangements of found-objects.
At the end of secondary school I had an art exam - a challenging life drawing. I clearly recall a fellow student lounging on a chaise (fully clothed - we were only 16!) and the drawing I made of her from an angle requiring skilful foreshortening. At the end, my teacher asked for my portfolio..."What portfolio..?”, I said. The one I was supposed to have been making all year, apparently. Kindly, she allowed me to spend the rest of the day painting, drawing and writing to make a year’s worth of submission. Not only did I pass, I was awarded the highest mark in the country that year. It was obvious I should pursue art but…I didn’t.
Both my parents were from dysfunctional homes. I’m sure they married young to escape but, of course, made their own version of familial mess. My family never missed a chance to criticise, ridicule and crush aspiration. From infancy, my experience of my mother ranged from neglect through to physical abuse. My father constantly ‘corrected’ and, for his daughter in particular, emphasised appearances rather than character, saying “it’s harder for people not to love you if you’re good looking”.
As a small child I'd become attached to my home - a more secure, reliable thing than my parents. So, it was very destabilising and painful when my mother abruptly took me from it to return to her own home city. There I met my grandparents who added to the retinue of hostile adults relentlessly using threats and put-downs to extinguish all happiness and spontaneity. By the time I entered school I felt profoundly alone, certainly lacking the confidence and skills required to thrive. English schools operated on a control-based culture and frightening experiences awaited me. Ridicule from teachers and fellow students was common (though the kindly ones stand out in my mind), I witnessed students abusing each other in ways I cannot describe...and teachers too. I recall a chair being thrown by a child at one poor teacher. By the time I left school I'd survived an assault that left me with a black eye and coped with the daily threat of harm well enough not to fail all my exams. At this point I was bereft - no one seemed to protect or care for me, especially the people who might be expected to.
Because the emphasis was always on the wrongness of one's actions rather than communicating values or emotions, my inner life was a closed world to me and my communication skills were severely stunted. I recall deciding, one day, to go to London. After making my way to the local train station and into London, I wandered for a few hours before managing to return home. I was 14 years old and told no-one what I was doing because no one was listening. Although I gained entry to an art college, with the help of my art teacher, my drive to fulfil any artistic potential was completely drowned by the desperate need to feel loved.
This was the first time I played the hand dealt me to my advantage; I had both Australian and UK citizenship and decided to exercise the option to go to Australia, thinking that life with my Father (still there) might provide a chance for the happiness I needed. So, I left for Australia...
Quickly I discovered that my ever-critical and invasive father was unbearable to live with. I ran away with nowhere to go - arriving at a local town with a suitcase. Eventually, I found a youth shelter where I stayed for a couple of nights before one of the staff took me home. Despite having a wife and child in the house. he was inappropriately ‘touchy' so, I left there too.
Eventually, I found work and flatmates and a boyfriend. He thoughtfully gave me a book about personal growth and psychology. No one had explained to me that life had patterns, reasons, causes and effects. Life seemed like an endless sea buffeting me with assault after assault and the best you could do was hold on. Psychology was a revelation! It explained why I was unhappy and provided hope for escape. I immediately decided to become a therapist, like the author, who seemed to have found wisdom and relief from the buffeting.
Two years later I gained entry to the prestigious University of Queensland. Four years later, eating cereal for dinner on many nights, I graduated with an honours degree in psychology and a little more insight. Soon, I married, established work and a house. I enjoyed being a psychotherapist because I understood how much my clients had suffered and how much they needed help. They were loyal because they felt the commitment and care I had for them. Though I worked with them, I had not persisted in improving myself - I remained convinced I was alone and uncared-for - this childhood hangover poisoned my marriage triggering divorce and the loss of my home. This was the next big turning point. This massive loss exposed that, although I understood what harm my childhood had done, I had not recovered. I re-focussed on my own wellbeing.
For the next few years, I developed even more insight into myself and others, more discipline in correcting my inherited errors and higher expectations of myself and others.
Now I'd reached 'ground level'; instead of being in a massive psychological hole I could afford to shift from reparation to self-actualisation. What I could I have done if childhood had been good? Where would I be with great parents who understood and encouraged me? I was a good therapist but, a therapist because of being of starting out lost. If I'd started well, it’s not the career I would've had. I knew that attentive parents would have cultivated my artistic talent…they'd have shepherded me into a fine art degree, encouraged me to extend myself to be both dedicated and adventurous.
Trying for a new life in art would never be the same as starting decades earlier but,…it was better than continuing to live the consequences of being hurt and had the chance of the fulfilment that comes from being ‘on purpose’. Ultimately, what I have is perspective - a cultivated inner life and the ability to see meaning and motivation. I have grit - to persist and to expect continuous development in myself. And great compassion and motivation to do something meaningful as well as beautiful. All this comes with me in the new direction.
Art life started by teaching myself oil painting and developing the skills to make realistic portraits and figurative paintings. More recently I've explored abstraction, brushwork, scale and composition. Now I want to combine abstraction and figuration in art with symbolism and meaning in subject matter. Still trying to get home.