Ellen Phelan

“I started working in the context of early post-Minimalism. At the time there was this scene in Detroit, a rough, gritty Motor City junk aesthetic. It was also quite macho, lots of guys. I took canvas off the stretcher and began treating it as an object—painting both sides, cutting and folding—which had something to do with Robert Morris’s felt pieces. But they were much more feminine, much softer, and had color. In some ways being an artist is a conversation: you’re always commenting on somebody else’s work. I didn’t yet have the vocabulary to say that I was trying to do a feminist version of Minimalism. But I did say to myself things like, Well, I think I could make that one better.” –Ellen Phalen, interview Bomb Magazine

Ellen Phelan is a painter and photographer known for her hazy, romantic landscapes. Throughout her long and varied career, she has worked in multiple media, including oil, watercolor, pastel, gouache, photography, stencil, and collage. In the 1960s, Phelan embraced a violent brand of abstract painting influenced by postminimalism, for which she stretched, cut, and shredded her canvases into irregular shapes and sizes. However, her work took a significant turn after she began vacationing in the Adirondack Mountains in the late 1970s: Phelan took up plein air painting, creating atmospheric, diffuse landscapes reminiscent of Corot and Turner. After experimenting with heady, psycho-dramatic portraits of dolls, she revisited landscape, this time employing photography as a model for her paintings. Her moody still-lifes, landscapes, and paintings of old family photographs have been compared to the Merchant Ivory’s films and Marcel Proust’s prose. In her blurry, ethereal passages, Phelan maintains a rapport with 19th century Romanticism, exploring loss, memory, and the passage of time.

E_and_Ruby_by Joel_shapiro

E and Ruby, 2003-2004, digital photograph. Shot by Joel Shapiro.

She has had solo shows at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum and has been included in group exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Wien, MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.


Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, New York, NY
Senior & Shopmaker Gallery, New York, NY
Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Ferndale, MI
Ellen Phelan Permanent Collections

Select Permanent Collections

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn New York
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
The Baltimore Museum, Baltimore, MD
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Museum of Contemporary Art, Mexico City
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

–biography source from Artspace

Phelan’s techniques are her own and a mystery even to other painters. There is an elegant surety about placement and color. Perhaps the most beautiful painting here is a self-portrait, called Self-Portrait”, showing the artist taking her own picture in a mirror. This sounds corny (another risk) but the painting is astonishing. The works are all beautifully scaled. Whether or not Phelan wins the gamble, playing with narcissism and sentimentality as she does, is debatable. I found the show masterful and all the more so for taking the risks that she does. – Stephen Mueller Art Critical

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