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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Ellen Altfest

''Working from life rather than photos, Ellen Altfest’s paintings exude an experiential quality: capturing the transference the impact of looking as it becomes imprinted in memory, she replicates her personal engagement with the objects as a tangible sensation on her canvas. Tumbleweed offers a cosmos of this ethereal state. Stranded between representation and intuitive painterly indulgence, Altfest proposes a vision of quiet contemplation, rendering a bewildering beauty from the study of the simplest things.''

Ellen Altfest

Honors and Awards

2006 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY
2004 The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation: The Space Program, New York, NY
2006 Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY
2004 Dorland Mountain Art Center, Temecula, California
2000 The Fine Arts Work Center, Fellowship, Provincetown, MA
1997 Angel Grant, Full Tuition Scholarship, VT Studio Center, Johnson, VT

2002 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
1997 MFA, Painting, Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT
1993 BFA, Painting, and BA, English, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


Jerry Saltz once described painting as “…one of the greatest visionary tools ever invented, and among the most effective ways to alter reality, see it better, or invent a new one.”* Altfest’s work undoubtedly adheres to this, by not merely representing what is before her in the studio, be it a domestic plant, tumbleweed, log or model. Instead, Altfest, who always paints from life rather than reproduction, consumes herself in an intense analysis and personal engagement with the subject, that pushes her vision beyond the real.

For Altfest's second New York exhibition in 2005, the writer and artist David Humphrey elaborates on her practice:
"Ellen Altfest asks us to slow down, to crawl, to feel our way across the variegated surfaces of her depicted objects until we experience them as materialized hallucinations. The dense skin of her paintings invites us to travel into nether-spaces of bewildering complexity where we become lost in a thoroughly mapped world right in front of our eyes.

Altfest’s work is an exercise of extreme and deliriously inefficient will seeking both accuracy and metaphor. Altfest looks at her motif then looks away to perform precise labors in the fading memory of that perception, over and over again. Everything must be touched into existence, part by part. In her painting of tumbleweed, Altfest first immobilizes it in the corner of her studio and then renders it on the canvas. But our eye continuously tumbles through the weed’s tangled geodesics to find purchase in its many areas of perplexing coherence.
The tumbleweed, like all her subjects, suggests a brain, a world or an animate being, before inevitably cycling back to its origin as nothing special. Ellen Altfest’s paintings celebrate the way objects become engulfed by their surroundings and simple acts of identification multiply and transform. Her disciplined vigilance encourages an ecstasy of matter and vision."

Ellen Altfest received an MFA from Yale University. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2002) and was awarded a studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe art foundation 2004-5. In 2004 she was a resident at the Dorland Mountain Art Center in the foothills of Temecula, CA. She previously had solo exhibitions at Bellwether Gallery, New York (2002 and 2005) and Inside the White Cube, White Cube Hoxton 2007. A number of her works are in the Saatchi collection and were shown as part of the ‘USA Today’ exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2006 and traveled to the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia in 2007. Altfest also has curated several exhibitions in New York, including ‘Men’ at I-20 in 2006. In 2010, she has been invited to do a residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas and in November 2011 will have a solo exhibition at White Cube Hoxton.

*"Painting a La Mode", Jerry Saltz, The Village Voice, December 4, 2002


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