AMY ELLINGSON | Technosignatures
May 25 – Sep 30, 2023
technosignature (n.) any measurable property or effect that provides scientific evidence of past or present technology.
In her fourth Robischon Gallery solo exhibition entitled “Technosignatures,” New Mexico artist Amy Ellingson offers a diverse selection of works including paintings, robotic drawings, tapestry, and glazed porcelain sculpture. Ellingson has used digital imagery as the basis for her paintings for over three decades as she is interested in the vast, incalculable effects of the rise of digital technology on both artistic production and the experience of looking at art. At the same time, the artist is invested in the practice of painting as a deeply humanistic activity. Her work is a conflation of traditional methodologies and new technologies, of handmade and digitally produced, of strict protocol and strategic workarounds, of natural and artificial, and of fast and slow. Ellingson’s work uniquely addresses this moment in time, in which we, as a species, are betwixt and between the analog past and a digitally immersive future.
Ellingson states: “Increasingly, I use the data files associated with my painting process – raster and vector files, primarily – to create related objects that are intrinsic, and also tangential to my painting practice. The various manifestations of the data, in a range of media, suggest the mutable, trickle-down and omnipresent effects of digital information. The works relay the same basic informational ‘code’ with varying degrees of digital and material mediation. Together, they address the multiplicity of expressive possibilities within a limited system that explores the nature of formal repetition, image and object-hood. In addition, they question the primacy, as well as the alleged obsolescence, of painting.”
The twelve brilliantly hued paintings with layered brush-worked surfaces comprise the “Loop” suite. They incorporate visual density and complexity, interlocking and interconnected forms, a tenuous sense of order, and spatial fluctuation. The vivid palette, though harmonious throughout, allows each work to stake its own claim. The “Loop” series paintings are based on a procedural variation within a strict set of parameters. In computer programming, a loop is a sequence of instructions which is specified once and carried out multiple times, either until a desired condition is met or, perhaps, indefinitely. Ellingson often makes groups of paintings that are nearly identical to each other, with slight variations – elements are reversed, flipped, and rendered in different colors. Thus, each work is part of the group, but also a stand-alone entity, asserting its individual identity through a combination of sameness and difference, much in the way that differentiation is expressed through permutations in genetic or computer code. Yet it is the richness of the painting itself, with its saturated density achieved through atypical application of oil and encaustic – a personal technique developed in contrast to art-historical methods.
Ellingson’s never before shown “Minerva Chronicles” are her intriguing robotic drawing series which are essentially ‘drawings of paintings’ that advance her deep investigation into varied recursive strategies. She initiated the series in 2022 with the intent to explore a new way of making that allows for unpredictable and uncontrolled results. Ellingson employs four different software programs with her drawing robot (an x-y plotter named Minerva) and paradoxically, the plotter works best with traditional fountain pens and archival fountain pen inks. She states, “I love the challenge of working with the wonky combination of high and low-tech. To make the drawings, I use advanced, sophisticated graphics software as well as more ‘democratic,’ open-source software, which is often quite glitchy and rather limited. I’m continually compelled to devise workarounds to get the software to do what I want it to do. In a strange way, the robotic drawings are freer and more unexpected than they would be if drawn by hand. Making them is an act of giving up control, in a sense, and surrendering to the awkward process of combining old and new technologies.”
Ellingson’s included “Artifacts” series sculptures are black or white glazed porcelain works derived from 2-D image files – the same sort of files used to comprise her paintings. Once the imagery is adapted for 3-D modeling, the sculptures are 3-D printed in porcelain; hybrid forms that appear organic and synthetic at the same time. Ellingson views them as “seeds that contain all of the data for the paintings; or, contrarily, as meteoric forms that represent the paintings as compressed, compacted objects.” The porcelain works show no obvious signs of 3-D printing, and their intimate scale is determined by the constraints of the proprietary printing process of Ellingson’s fabricator based in Ukraine. The artist states, “Although they may resemble seeds, pods, rocks, or other natural forms, these works are sculptural versions of my paintings. They subtly undermine the hierarchies and defining characteristics associated with categories of ‘painting’ and ‘sculpture,’ as they would never exist without the paintings. The paintings always come first as the catalyst for the creation of all related works.”
Ellingson’s newest, unexpected material endeavor is the “Grand Loop Variations” series of Jacquard tapestries. This work is the fruition of the artist’s interest in Jacquard weaving since the early weaving technology is considered an important step in the history of computing. The Jacquard machine, patented in 1804, simplified the weaving process by using punch cards to determine designs and patterns in the weaving, while the contemporary Jacquard process is a notable innovation within this time-honored tradition now involving the computerization of custom palettes which ensure fidelity to the artist's original design. Woven at a small, family-owned mill in Belgium the “Grand Loop Variations” tapestries are closely related to the paintings in the “Loop” suite, but are unique designs created specifically for the weaving process. Ellingson states, “it’s a dream come true to create works that have such deep, historical associations. Tapestries have distinct tactile and optical qualities as they are woven in low relief. Colors literally recede and advance in physical space. And, of course, tapestries represent centuries of skill and craft in terms of their presence as art objects. I appreciate the history of the medium, not least because of its relationship to early computing devices.”
Through a range of diversely compelling media, Ellingson’s “Technosignatures” exhibition represents a sense of vast potentiality where her paintings are the matrix for her broad artistic practice to delve into longstanding theoretical, art historical, and philosophical debates about the primacy of painting. In culmination, Amy Ellingson explains, “I continue to expand the context for my work— juxtaposing the truths of painting with the unfolding realities of digital technology in a way that will engage new audiences inclusive of, as well as beyond, the specific discourse of abstract painting.”
Amy Ellingson received a B.A. in Studio Art from Scripps College in Claremont, CA, and an M.F.A. from CalArts in Valencia, CA. Ellingson’s work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and in Tokyo, Japan. She is the recipient of the Fleishhacker Foundation Eureka Fellowship and the Artadia Grant to Individual Artists. She has been awarded fellowships at MacDowell, the Ucross Foundation and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Ellingson’s paintings have been included in group exhibitions such as Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture Since 1900 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Unfamiliar Again: Contemporary Women Abstractionists at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University and Alcoves 20/20 at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Her work is held in various public collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Crocker Art Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, the US Embassies in Algeria and Tunisia and the United States Department of State, Washington, DC. Her 2015 public commission, Untitled (Large Variation), is an 1100-square-foot ceramic mosaic mural, permanently on view at the San Francisco International Airport. She recently installed a large-scale commission for Sam Houston State University in Conroe, Texas, and has been awarded a commission for a new public work for the San Diego International Airport, which will be completed in 2024. Ellingson was an Associate Professor of Art at the San Francisco Art Institute from 2000 to 2011 and has served on the Board of Directors at Root Division, a San Francisco nonprofit arts organization, since 2011.