Sunday, January 23, 2011

Guest Artist ~ February 2011

In this edition of the FIREWATER IMAGES blog I’m very pleased to introduce the first guest artist

Ellen Picken…

On the subject of painting philosophy "Those circus bears know how to ride bikes, they have big claws. Why don't they just roar, ride away, end their servitude?"

So hang on to your ring-side seats as we let Ellen take us for a ride…

Lets start out with three of Ellen's newest pieces intermixed with an interview; All as of yet untitled work.
Foster: "Who is the artist Ellen Picken?  Where does she come from in interests that affect her art?"

Ellen:  "Funny, I don't usually identify as any one thing, even an artist. I don't base my identity on the job I do, or the size of my house, or who I sleep with. These are things that give a lot of people a sense of self or meaning, and it is no different for people who call themselves artist. I am just a person, one who works at the Post Office, who loves food, who likes screwing, and who really enjoys putting paint on things. If I couldn't do it, I would find something else to do that I liked. So no loss. Wink..."
Ellen:  "Sometimes plain old good draftsmanship turns me on. Certain sculptures that alter my physical sensibilities. Mostly it is the way brushstrokes are laid on the canvas that get me going.  And other times the motivation/concept behind a work is evident without being obvious or didactic. Just like I like to make an effort at my own work, I like to work a little at looking at art.
Ull Honn, Nicole Eisenman, Hernan Bas, Wilhelm Sasnal, Dan Attoe, Joshua Mosley just a list of artists names I can remember liking but not really influenced by. Then also I very much enjoy the 80's Neo-Expressionists work (though many deny being part of any genre or fad we'll just clump it all together for the sake of this interview) there is visual interest as well as political/social meaning behind the work that is rarely combined so well. Ross Bleckner number one on this list."

Ellen: "As for my interest in art, we can talk about making and looking.The process of work. Simple work. This is all that there is. I see things around me that have a history to them, maybe only a ten day history or the span of a human life or dirt that is old as dirt. Whatever it is, the state it is in by the time I see it took work: effort to stave deterioration, corruption and repentance, scarring, growth on top of old bones. The work Life puts in to keep on living is interesting, and valuable to me. That is the sense I want to achieve in my paintings. I want the paintings not to represent the image but to show the work that has gone in to them, I want a painting to be an event in itself, have its own historical process and look like it could keep on going. There is no real meaning in the images themselves. Just like there is no real meaning for me to work for the Post Office. Rather it is in the way I do things that has meaning."

Foster: "Talk to me about media; what are you using? How are you using it? How did you get to that media / material?"

Ellen: "I majored in print making. Again I liked the work that went into it. But after I left school and didn't have access to a press, I found the work of hand burnishing way too laborious! One day I was walking through the art store and saw some new hand made paints. The pigments were so pure and beautiful it looked like earth in a tube. Then I started painting. Just for beauty's sake or maybe because I liked playing in the dirt so much as a kid. At first it was not so easy, I applied print making techniques to painting. In much of my work I actually remove paint to get the effect I want. Sometimes I wonder if I should sculpt instead. But more and more the paintbrush and my hand are getting along very well. Sometimes I just use my hands. A friend of mine came up and we painted together. After he left I just wanted to paint on his painting, then realized what I really wanted was to touch it with my hands. I wanted to directly experience what he had done."

Below: Beast and fruit        Oil on board        48 x 48"        2009

Foster: "What's the relationship between the media and the subject?"

Ellen: "The subjects I choose are only those things I know. I paint what is around me. On one hand they are just coincidental objects of the countryside. On the other hand I actively chose to live here and enjoy it and find value in the relationship I have with my land and community. So these paintings can be simple object paintings or complex relational paintings depending on how you or I feel that day. I did notice I have never painted an interior scene. Now that is getting into psychology which I know nothing about.

The relationship between media and subject....I like the thought of using dirt to paint dirt, using my hands to move dirt not unlike a farmer. Or maybe it is more like shoveling chicken shit out of the coop. Yes, much more like that."

 Below: Stick from the branches      Oil on board        32 x 48"        2009
"Ellen Picken seems to paint what’s on the furthermost edge of our minds. Not the full-blown color stuff that fills our heads all day but the dimmer images from who-knows-where. Picken’s paintings are more like dream fragments, leftovers from a restless night, pushed just outside our minds’ peripheral vision." - Mike Irwin  

To view more work by Ellen Picken: 
To make a studio visit email Ellen:
or visit to view work and see next exhibit dates.
Spinning Straw in to Gold a three artist exhibition at ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery, Seattle WAFeb 1-27 2011

Like to view the artists Ellen mentioned in this interview? Here are some links...


  1. Very interesting interview with Ellen, thanks for featuring a local artist!

  2. Thanks for providing a forum that includes artist interviews with their art. And thanks to Ellen for talking about her excellent work! I have been a fan for some time.

  3. Well done you two. I love your new 'untitled' pieces Ellen. You must have used horsetail brushes. Can't wait for the next artist interview and to see more of your work Ellen.