Ray Ellis has been painting for over seventy years on all 7 continents. But this week he was here at his gallery on Congress Street in Savannah. At 91 years of age, he is sharp, full of fun and laughter and is someone you wish you never had to say good- bye to. He was there for his new exhibit of lowcountry paintings placed on the walls surrounding the desk where he sat Friday afternoon.
I was able to sit down with him that day and speak alone to discover the man behind the great paintings we all love and appreciate. He spoke openly about his childhood memories of going into the Museum of Art in New York, touching a famous painting and saying to himself, “I can do that, too.” Both his parents were artists and now his children are all excellent artists in their own right.
In 2004, the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah honored the depth and breadth of his career with a major traveling exhibition titled “Ray Ellis in Retropsect: A Painter’s Journey.” He received the Salmagundi Club’s Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement in the Arts.
I first met Mr. Ellis in 1974 shortly after he moved south to Hilton Head. By that time he had closed his ad agency in New York and was devoting full time to painting.
In the early 80′s, he collaborated with Walter Cronkite on a series of fine art books which celebrate America’s coastlines. Last week he revealed that he soon has a new book coming out. How inspiring is that – to think that after all these years, he still has such a passion for his work.
I purchased one of his recent books “By the Light of the Moon” which showcases a theme that has captivated him for many years – moonlight.
My next book:
Inspired by Mr. Ellis, I , too, am working on a new book. This will be a never before experienced journey traveling inside the private, culinary lives, obsessions and notebooks of some of today’s most influential Southern artists.
For example, with the help of his daughter, Peggy, a brilliant artist in her own right, we will gather together some of the Ellis family’s treasured family recipes, stories and memories.
My private conversations with artists such as Ray Ellis have been so personal that their thoughts and ideas only come alive when alone. If not written down, that whirlwind of ideas, is what we risk loosing forever. Everything is a dream until it’s on paper and once on paper, it becomes a reality.
This new book gains rare access to the artists private thoughts while candidly exploring how an artist’s creative mind spills over into the kitchen.