Cultural Icons

Conversations with iconic people

Episode61

Robert Ellis

“[Francis Bacon told me] I suppose you feel inspiration is going to descend on you from God and sit on your shoulder, and you're going to shout Eureka and grab your brushes? It’s not like that at all!”

Preview / 00:07:40

Full Episode / 01:06:33

In This Episode

In this episode of Cultural Icons artist and film maker Claudia Pond-Eyley interviews painter and academic Robert Ellis. This, the first of a two part interview, discusses, with a great knack for detail, colour and anecdote his childhood and adolescence in Northampton, England. There his father's dream for young Robert's entrance into a safe and well paid shoe-making career and his mother's insistence on piano playing instilled in him a subtle reverence for arts, crafts and non-conformity. Ellis discusses how from early on his artistic abilities were noticed by forward thinking teachers who insisted he attend Saturday art classes. It was there that Robert experimented with etching and found a long lasting romance with oil painting. With World War II looming as a backdrop, Ellis talks about school days full of chaos, a variety of languages, European refugees, and his place there, observing and ingesting the various symbols that would later come to make up his seminal paintings. Ellis discusses his time at the Royal Air Force as a photographer, and his arrival at the Royal College of Art in London (1949-1952) where his painting thrived and his social nous brought him in contact with some of the great names of his generation (John Minton, Albert Herbert, among others).
Robert speaks in depth about his encounter with a young Francis Bacon and their conversation which changed Ellis' perception of the goals and ethos of art-making. He explores the significance of this encounter giving us both a glimpse of the secretive and troubled Bacon as much as offering a glimmer of the colour and feel of bohemian England at the time.
The interview finishes with Ellis’ arrival in New Zealand (1957) as a senior lecturer at Elam School of Fine Art, his early perceptions of the quiet, parochial Auckland and his work transforming its art and design scene into what it is today.