Richard Ellinger was educated at Harvard in1920. He was an Honors Graduate from the Massachusetts School of Art in Boston, 1920-1924.
He also studied at the Designers Art School in Boston from 1925 to 1927, the Beaux Arts Institute, and in New York City with Eugene Steinhof, 1933-1934.
He received his M.A. From the University of Northern Colorado, 1940.
He went on to teach at the Massachusetts School of Art from 1926-1927 as well as the University of Northern Colorado from 1930-1962. He was a
Guest Professor at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, WI, from 1963-1964.
His exhibitions are as follows:
1991: *Retrospective, Marianni Gallery, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO.
1990: *Union Colony Civic Center, Greeley, CO.
*Greeley National Bank, Greeley, CO.
1963: Denver Artists Guild Show, Denver Museum of Natural History.
1948: *Vogue Art Theater, Denver, CO.
*Faculty Club, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO.
1936: National Art Exhibition, International Building, Rockefeller Center, NYC.
1928-1948: Denver Art Museum Annuals
1928, 29 & 32: * Solo Exhibitions, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO.
A recommended bibliography is as follows:
The Organization of Color, Edward Brothers, 1935; An Approach to Creative Color Symposium on Color in Art Education, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1942;
Education for Creative Thinking, Education, February, 1946; Color Structure and Design, International Textbooks, 1949; Review: Persuasive Introduction, the Greeley Journal, May, 1949.
Color and Philosophy”, the Boise Art Association, Boise, Idaho, 1948.
Portrait Demonstration, Denver Arts Club, Denver, CO., 1955.
The Structure Of A Painting”, Artists Guild, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 1962.
Color in Art Education”, N.E.A. Convention, Denver, CO.
The Use Of Color”, Pacific Arts Association, Seattle, WA.
Guest on PBS Art Instruction Series, Denver, CO.
The Art of Richard G. Ellinger (1897-1990)
“ I have been especially interested in the organization of color in painting. I feel that too often color is neglected in favor of form or some other aspect of painting.
Color is the unique manifestation of the painters expression, and as an expressive vehicle is capable of rich development.
Some of my canvases are experiments in widening the threshold for color acceptance, endeavoring to include greater oppositions and dissonances within the accepted color unit. This has of necessity entailed the subordination of certain qualities of representation. In some of my work I have emphasized the importance of subject within the artform: in other canvases I have denied the importance of subject and have placed emphasis upon the formal qualities of the art form. I believe the trend in painting must be toward the embodiment of meaningful subject matter within a highly organized design”. R.G. Ellinger, 1935
On October 31, 1938, a representative from the color laboratory at Walt Disney Studios wrote to one of the country’s leading authorities on color, Richard G. Ellinger.
The studio was researching what psychological effects color might have on potential viewers of their newly devised artform, the feature- length color animated film.
Ellinger gave written advice to the studio although most of his research had already been published in his 1935 book, The Organization Of Color. The artist struggled with the same problem facing the Disney studio, that is the attempt to elicit a profound and emotional response through color. Ellinger correctly pointed out in his response that the studio had a more intricate complication that differed from his own work. This was due to the fact that a motion picture involved “mobile color” as he termed it. Moving color, unlike that of a painting was much more complex than that of painting on a canvas which is a constant visual image having minor limitations such as angles of observation and variations in illumination.. He stated that...”there has been very little study in this field (color) and a lot has been written to establish colors as symbols, colors as having fixed associations or seeking to determine color preferences”. He further explained that contemporary studies had been restricted to the study of single colors, something he was attempting to change through his paintings. ...”when color is thought of as an expressive language and is organized in terms of an art form of color, a heightened and pointed effect becomes psycologically inescapable”
In his own painting, Ellinger produced a body of work that reflected his canon of belief concerning color and form.
Born on September 28, 1897 in Ridgeway, PA., he attended local schools and was President of his high school class. After serving as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he went on to receive a A.B. from Harvard in 1920. He attended the Massachusetts School of Art from 1920 through 1924 where he was an Honors Graduate. During his time there, he conducted the school orchestra and won the senior medal of honor for drawing, painting and composition. After graduation, he joined the Massachusetts School of Art faculty while continuing graduate studies ther and at Harvard. His summers were spent painting and playing chamber music at various resorts in New England and Lake Louise, Canada. His musical talent took him around the world with a dance band aboard a cruise ship. From Paris in 1927, he accepted the offer to teach at what is now theUniversity of Northern Colorado, Greeley. “I made the transition from Paris to Greeley, from minstrel to college professor in just sixteen days”. He received his Masters degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1940 and continued as Professor of art until his retirement in 1962. In 1932, he married Lucille Snow who was also a member of the art faculty of UNC in the field of Art Education. In 1933, they took a sabbatical leave to travel and study art in the museums of France, Germany, Poland, and Russia.
Ellinger was Tympanist for the Greeley Symphony for thirty five years. He also conducted the orchestra for two seasons during World War II.
In 1935, he published his book, The Organization of Color. Another publication, Color Structure and Design was published in 1963 and reprinted in 1980. The Structured Palette and some fiction remains unpublished.
Viewing the extant examples of his work one finds a consistent search and experimentation toward development of his medium albeit always underscored by superb draughtmanship and a disciplined technique. His early figure drawings and paintings are classically designed with traditional compositions and arrangements of subdued tonal values and hues. During the 1920’s when Ellingers work began to mature, American Impressionism and Realism was the dominant aesthetic for most artists. Works such as “Bather”, 1925 (figure 1), Children Bathing, 1925 (figure 2) and “Swimmers Under the Brooklyn Bridge”, ca. 1928 (figure 3) are beautiful examples of the artists abilities. One early work from the mid 1920’s shows his departure from literal represenatation and is obviously not painted from life. The scene is a mysterious allegorical scene that might be portraying Hannibal (figure 4) riding the back of an elephant surrounded by warriors and slaves in a dusty diagonal charge across the picture plane. . It is likely that his periods of study in Europe,became the the catalyst for his taking liberties with the human figure, incorporating elements of Post Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism inspired by artists such as Matisse, Andre L’Hote and especially Gauguin who appears to have been a major influence.
Curiously, this experimental nature rarely if ever, manifests in his landscapes. Perhaps his obvious attention to natures own inherent abstract qualities were enough for him to record. Most of the early landscapes appear to have been painted out of doors, en plein air (figure 5) while the figural works appear to be invented compositions made in his studio. It is apparent that he used his numerous drawings of the male and female figure as starting points for these compositions. One such study(Figure 6) is an early student work which depicts a classic female nude viewed from an elevated perspective giving an impression of the form as sculpture or religious figure. The female figure is lit from above and still retains the the graphic lines for perspective analysis. It would be fair to state that this drawing prefigures Ellinger’s dedication to the female form. It is interesting to note the range of observation from the exquisite early oil of a female model (figure 7) to the later untitled “string quartet” (figure 8)where the forms of the figures integrate with the shapes of the instruments themselves in a contrapuntal pattern.
He was a working musician who played improvisational jazz but was equally at home in the Classical millieu of a Symphony Hall, having been associated with the Greeley Symphony for many years
Classical and mythical themes appear to be the inspiration for several of Ellingers canvases. One painting of the late 1920’s (figure 9) uses the goddess Diana as the central figure while another untitled work (figure 10) appears to represent the Three Graces. One of the artists most curious paintings from this period is titled “Blue Nudes” (figure 11) This female grouping may represent several different goddesses or deities. Two of the figures are depicted with silvery white skin observing a world below from their nocturnal promentory while the other two figures are blue skinned and appear to be in conversation over a moonlight repast. Even those works such as the Seated Nude (figure (12) that do not make a direct reference to classical or mythical subjects, have a regal or exalted quality that separates the figure from standard representation. It is interesting to note that most of Ellingers female figures that are not entirely nude have a consistent cloth skirt that bisects the figure across the hips (figures 8,9,10,12,13,14,15). The purpose of this device is not clear but one might surmise that the artist observed examples of Classical depictions of mythological subjects and incorporated them into his own designs.
In his book, The Organization of Color,Ellinger used works by several artists to illustrate his study of established historical techniques. One illustration, “Tahiti” by Gaugin gives insight into Ellingers appropriation of such works. His own painting, (figure 15) appears to be based on the Gaugin composition. A dark-skinned female figure (once again clad in a draping skirt) dominates the picture plane. A male nude figure supporting a water jug on his shoulder stands in a classical pose in the background. Although Ellinger varied the figure’s stance, the similarities are evident.
Ellinger extended his variation of stylistic range to his still-life’s as well.. Works such as “Southwest still-life” and “The Green Door” (figures 16 & 17) are carefully composed works painted in a Formalist Realism style which was popularized by such American artists as Henry Lee McFee (1886-1953), Luigi Luccioni (1900-1988) and others in the 1920’s and 30’s. In contrast, the “Still-life With Geranium” (figure 18) of a later date, uses essentially the same format but incorporates the use of planar distortion for giving an effect of movement within the picture space. Obviously inspired by the Italian “Futurists” and the British “Vorticists”, the ideas are even more fully realised in the “Dynamic Still-life” (figure 19) where the objects are arranged in a continuous vortex. One piece of fruit dangles precariously within the folds of the tablecloth suspended in a gravity-defying space beyond the support of the table top.
The influence of European Modernism on Ellinger’s work is also evident in many of his figural compositions. His “Adolescence” is again inspired by Paul Gaugin’s Tahitian works where adolescent girls figured prominently within the compositions. Ellinger’s “Adolescence”(figure 20) illustrates how drastically his work differed from that of his regional regional contemporaries. This painting was exhibited in a national exhibition at Rockefeller Center in New York City in 1933 and an existing full page newpaper clipping dramatically illustrates this disparity. The other paintings are decidedly regionalist in the approach to subject matter, depicting the American western iconography in various points of view. Although Social Realism does not play an important role in Ellingers work, he did produce a few works that reflect some interest in the American Scene. Some of these works like “Top Church At Nevadaville”(figure 21) and “Mining Town” (figure 22) are typical of the interest in local subject matter that occupied many artists of the depression-era. The painting “Foothills”(figure 23) is the only extant work in tempera by Ellinger and is reminiscent of the work of Grant Wood who was enormously popular and influential in the 1930’s.
One of his works which seems to be an anomaly within his subject matter is the large oil “Violence In The Streets” of the early 1930’s (figure 24). The composition is a pyramid of struggling figures engaged in a street fight, possibly incited by one of the women. Two men battle each other while two women both dressed in red, attempt to stop them. One of the women falls to the curb landing on a broken barrel while the other tries to separate the men in an agonizing vertical strain. The painting is a vertiginous cacophany of vertical and horizontal intersections.
“We must remember that the nonrealist style is perfectly valid. The flat style of the Indian and Persian miniatures was certainly nonrealistic. So are Japanese prints.
..then there is abstraction in all degrees from partial to complete disassociation. Sometimes it is called “Abstract Expressionism”, but the abstract forces must be organized to present meaningful pictures (1962)
As Ellinger’s career advanced into the 1950’s and 60’s, most of his time and energies focused on teaching and writing. Although he exhibited less frequently, he still continued to paint portraits and landscapes with skill and sensitivity. Several Cubist inspired abstractions appear to have been executed in the late 1940’s, (figures 25 & 26) perhaps inspired by a sabbatical to Taos, NM where he might have come into contact with Modernists such as Emil Bisttram (1895-1976) and other members of the Transcendental Movement, all of whom were greatly inspired by Kandinsky and Paul Klee.Read More