Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Michael Ellison: Urban Impressions"

“Michael Ellison: Urban Impressions” opens this Saturday, February 18, and runs through May 21, 2017. Organized by Shawnya Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, it features block prints and collage works on paper by the Atlanta-based printmaker and educator. This exhibition draws from a selection of Ellison’s block prints and collage works in the collection of Larry and Brenda Thompson.

 Michael Ellison, Waiting Room, 1999

Ellison grew up in Collier Heights, a middle-class African American neighborhood in southwest Atlanta. He studied art at Atlanta College of Art on the GI Bill, where he learned printmaking. The title of the exhibition comes from the way in which one of Ellison’s early printmaking instructors, Norman Wagner, described Ellison’s subject matter, referring to his prints as “urban landscapes and/or impressions.”

Michael Ellison, Ding, 1991
After receiving his diploma from Frederick Douglass High School in 1970, Michael Ellison wanted to go to New York to further his study of the performing arts, despite his mother’s misgivings. In 1975, he joined the U.S. Army and served toward the end of the Vietnam War. While stationed in Europe, Ellison took advantage of the cultural offerings there, visiting museums and painting watercolors that he sold to friends. After he completed his tour of duty, Ellison briefly attended DeKalb Community College, then transferred to Atlanta College of Art (ACA) in 1981 on the GI Bill. He soon realized his affinity for printmaking, creating linocut and woodcut prints saturated with dense patches of color that also created texture. He often focused on social settings such as the black church, bars and other gathering places. Ellison said, “The bar is sort of like a modern icon. It’s similar to a house of worship for some folks.” In 1991 an electrical fire badly disfigured the artist. As he began to recover and re-learn how to make prints, he created works with striking colors focusing on scenes of isolation and community in urban landscapes. Ellison passed away from heart complications at the age of 48 in 2001.

Harris says, “Michael Ellison's work represents an important piece to the discussion of not only only African American printmakers, but also the history of Georgia-based printmakers, their unique narratives and their contributions to the medium.” This exhibition is part of the museum’s commitment to presenting single-artist shows by under-recognized African American artists.

Related events include:

“Conversation on Collecting,” a discussion with collectors Brenda and Larry Thompson and Curlee Raven Holton, executive director of the David C. Driskell Center
Thursday, February 23 at 5:30 p.m

Black History Month Dinner ($55 members, $75 nonmembers)
Friday, February 24 at 6 p.m.

Tour at Two, led by curator Shawnya Harris
WednesdayMarch 15 at 2 p.m.

Toddler Tuesday (register by emailing
Tuesday, May 9 at 10 a.m.

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.

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