Ellis’s sculptures, combining assemblages of found and salvaged objects with more traditional techniques such as bronze casting, are frequently animated by geared electric motors and ingeniously low-tech mechanisms and might thus be seen much more as “contraptions” than traditionally static and unified sculptural objects. Also working with photography and through drawing, in more recent work Ellis has increasingly used film as a means to explore his long standing interests in everyday experience, nostalgic popular culture, and the overlapping of serious thought and vulgarity.
Combining sophisticated wit with slapstick obviousness and throwaway one-liners, and utilising an aesthetic that combines thoughtful and philosophical ideas with the eccentricity of the amateur inventor, Ellis’s art frequently lures the viewer into a trap. We are surprised by the inanimate objects brought to life, confounded by the dumb made epic and the epic made dumb, and unsettled by the seriousness with which humour is taken or the ways in which high-minded scholarship or tragic solemnity can be punctured by a banal joke.
Although rarely declared or made specific, Ellis’s practice is resonant with autobiographical references, and both his northern working class roots and the profound influence of art school in the 70s suffuse his work. Ellis’s work relates to Arte Povera of the 1960s and 70s, and in its linguistic dimension to Conceptualism of the same period. Its most significant roots go historically deeper, however, back to Dada and Surrealism.