Ellen Strasser

Ellen Strasser is a German painter currently sharing her time between Munich and her studio in the beautiful Italian countryside of Castelnuovo di Porto by Rome, where I am lucky enough to visit her for a couple of days now.

We were close friends while studying in Munich, Germany, and although we don’t meet very often we have remained very good friends all these years. Ellen studied painting while I studied Photography . I used to love spending time in her studio with the smells of oil paints, and the longing back to that studio has been with me for these last 25 years and probably finally got me to start this course!

She has an amazing studio space flooded by light- with some pictures of us 25 years ago ūüôā

She is working both with large oil paintings and smaller paper works that are collages which are a combination of drawn elements and found items.

I have always just loved her art!

One thing that I am very inspired by is the joy and spontaneity with which Ellen approaches the painting. She starts with abstract shapes and colours and then keeps turning the canvas around looking for shapes that become meaningful.

Today we were turning this big canvas in all directions, with some pink plantlike background growth and bright yellow dragonflies/ fairies/ blossoms appearing.


The grey black painting to the right was one of her favorites painted in Germany, but in the transport to Italy, the plastic wrapping damaged the canvas. Ellen saw this as a happy accident and emphasized every dot caused by the wrapping, till it changed the painting to some more print like art work:


These two paintings are not finished yet. The blue and pink one is a collage on canvas, the orange one is one of the very rare figurative paintings Ellen is doing. Mostly she works in rather abstract paintings with some recognizable shapes appearing, angels, birds, flapping wings, but the shapes or subject matters are never clearly defined.

There is always something dreamlike or romantic in the paintings, but then some other element will add something slightly disturbing- the shape of the head is not quite human,  a cage on the throat of the bird, the pink flowers morphing into something threatening, flesh eating  perhaps. Besides the simply beautiful colours , these contrasts are what attracts me to her paintings. There is always an in-between, an unsettling sense of unfinished or not yet understood , that attracts me.

In her collages, Ellen uses both some personal drawings and some cut out images from magazines that she sometimes paints over. It was useful for me to see how lightly she deals with ready made images and draws all kind of different separate elements and then just sees if they fit, like a puzzle.

I am just so happy to be here these few precious days. Besides it being wonderful to connect to a dear friend, I feel so inspired by her art and her way of working !





Discovering new artists

Here I will take a look at some artists that were suggested by my tutor Joanne Mulvihill- Allen in my last report :

Ritchelly Oliveira, Angela Fraleigh and Dominque Fortin for unfinished/ finished

Tina Berning‚Äôs‚Äė100GirlsonCheapPaper‚Äô, for using newspaper

Alyssa Dennis for perspective

All these artists are new to me and I am happy to discover them.


Ritchelly Oliveira is a Brazilian artist, working mostly with portraits where different parts  are in different stages of detail, some parts photographically precise, others scribbled , then combined with another level of drawings of unexpected elements covering parts of the faces.

Images from: Find-your-northcom. 2016. Find-your-northcom. [Online]. [24 October 2016]. Available from: https://find-your-north.com/2016/09/26/lacunas/ and from Ritchelly Oliveiras facebook page.


I love the combination of very precisely finished portraits, very realistic, and in contrast the parts left out unfinished. I find these portraits full of feeling, strong expressions.

These more recent ones with birds in the foreground become more symbolical with the leaves, flowers or birds symbolizing  different feelings for different viewers. It is an incredible combination of precise draughtmanship and knowing when to stop or hide and let something be imagined.


Angela Fraleigh is an American artist and teacher. She is currenly showing her work in¬†SYRACUSE, NY (September 15, 2016)¬†‚Äď Between Tongue and Teeth, her first major museum exhibition.

“it brings together over a decade of the artist‚Äôs works which question and reimagine women‚Äôs roles in art history, literature, and contemporary media. In a bravura style that weaves together realism and abstraction, Fraleigh creates striking works ranging from intimate portraits to monumental figure paintings.”¬†Angelafraleighcom.¬†2016.¬†Angelafraleighcom.¬†[Online].¬†[24 October 2016].¬†Available from: http://www.angelafraleigh.com/blog/

Here too there is this play between unfinished backgrounds and the finished figures.  I feel attracted to the upper images of more modern and realistic fragments of portraits with intriguing expressions in a dreamlike unclear setting.

The lower images with plain backgrounds and big golden patterns and probably mythological figures touch me less. They seem  just cut out and detached from the backgrounds which I found a less interesting version than leaving parts of the figure itself undrawn. This classical style in a modern setting touches me less than the more expressive fragments of faces above.


I loved discovering Canadian artist Dominique Fortin! She paints beautiful portraits or parts of bodies full of expression together with mythical or fairytale elements. I love the mixture of melancholy and playful joy, of reality and this invitation to a fantasy world of huge birds, butterflies and colorful creatures.

There is life and joy and depth and sadness here, the feeling of being caged and of soaring high on a fantasy bird. I read that the model for most of the paintings is the artists daughter who is very very similar to her mother, so this adds another level of self inquiery, of childhood revisited, of relationships.


Tina Berning is a German artist working in Berlin. She draws women’s portraits or figures using all kinds of paper. The drawings seem quick, fresh, and express a lot with a few lines and splashes of ink or paint.


Tinaberningde. 2016. Tinaberningde. [Online]. [24 October 2016]. Available from: http://tinaberning.de


I wanted to avoid getting too involved in the biography looking at these artists, but I still stated where they are from, as this seems to be an information always starting off any text about artists I read – and now I am wondering why that is so relevant. Isn’t art something more time and place less¬†? ¬†When I saw Tina Berning’s artwork and read “Berlin” thoiugh, that just made such perfect sense to me, it is “so Berlin”, even if it is portraits and human figures there is a mix of elegance of the 20’s with the modern graffiti trashiness and grey I associate with Berlin too.


Her book “100 Girls on Cheap paper” ¬†published in Germany in 2006 and reprinted in the US in 2009 unites 100 drawings of women- on various “cheap paper” like brown wrapping paper, bills, squared school block paper. Some drawings have names, some untitled, mostly portraits but also many figure drawings and often with scribbled words as well ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†( like “conversation gap- panic!).

It is less dreamlike and harsher than the work of Dominique Fortin, but there is a directness and truth that I feel very touched by in this work.

Also I feel very tempted to copy some of the papers and techniques she uses.


Alyssa Dennis draws imaginary houses, buildings , structures. I am absolutely in awe of the artist having this three dimensional view and capacity to play this freely with perspective and find the freedom and imagination  within these very geometrical structures mesmerizing. It is very far from my way of thinking or longings and I would never draw like this, which is probably why I find it fascinating.


I had a look at these artists as soon as I got the last report and they were suggested by my tutor- but now reviewing them and writing even a few sentences about each and evaluating how their work affects me has brought a whole different level of insight. Also I see how far off ¬†I am from what I would like to do with the exercises I have completed so far for this chapter. Writing this feels very inspiring- I can’t wait to let some new ideas flow into my experiments of drawing and feel like I should start the whole chapter over again ūüôā