LAMA BLOG

Just In: The Art of Craig Ellwood

June 29, 2016

Los Angeles Modern Auctions is pleased to announce that the October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction will feature nine works of art by the celebrated architect Craig Ellwood.

From his projects for the influential Case Study House program of the 1950s to his office’s acclaimed 1974 design for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, the work of Craig Ellwood helped define a new architectural aesthetic in the United States. Simple, elegant, minimalist, steel-framed, and glass-walled, Ellwood’s buildings embody a mix of Miesian rationalism and breezy California cool.

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Craig Ellwood, Capriccio (1981)
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Many of Ellwood’s admirers are unaware that he enjoyed a vibrant second career as an artist. His field was geometric abstraction, and Ellwood’s work reveals a brilliant feeling for color, line, proportion, and optical effect. Ellwood met Josef Albers at Yale in the late 1950s, and the great color theorist became a mentor to Ellwood, encouraging him to paint. Ellwood would receive technical lessons from Lorser Feitelson, one of the four artists whose work gave a name to the Hard Edge school of abstraction. After painting for years as a pastime, Ellwood closed his architectural practice in 1977 and moved to Italy to paint full time. He died in 1992.

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Craig Ellwood, clockwise from top left:
For Josef- Black #1; For Josef- White #1 ; For Josef- Red #1; For Josef- Silver#1; (1979-1981)
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Los Angeles Modern Auctions spoke with Ellwood’s widow, Leslie Phillips, about his art.

LAMA: Did Craig Ellwood see painting as a purer expression of his architectural vision?

LP: I do think that Craig felt that painting was a purer expression of his architectural vision. He left architecture with the advent of postmodernism. As a modernist, he refused to compromise the clean lines and purity of space and line that he held true. With canvas and paint he could craft space, line, and color creating the vibration of harmony and beauty that he held so dear, without interference of the client.

LAMA: Craig Ellwood had an amazing eye for color and optical effects. Did he have a philosophy or theory of visual experience?

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Craig Ellwood, Untitled (4) (1979–1980)
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

LP: I think that Craig had a keen sense of poetry and beauty within space and line, which he was able to enhance through the use of color. He was very involved in race car driving and was responsible for designing the paint colors and designs on the race cars he entered in Le Mans. He dictated to Enzo Ferrari the exact color of the Ferrari he ordered for himself. Later, when Craig visited him in Modena, he noted that a photograph of Craig’s orange Ferrari was the only photograph hanging on the wall of Ferrari’s office. I think that his artwork was influenced by his appreciation of the intoxicating energy and vibrations he found at the race track and that he was able to translate and channel this inspiration in such a way that he could maintain the beauty and elegance of the space and line of his architecture.

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For Josef works in situ in Ellwood’s and Phillips’s home in Italy

LAMA: Please tell us about your husband’s personality. His work is rationalist, but he had a dashing and romantic reputation — it’s a provocative combination.

LP: Craig was a hardworking perfectionist. He was also romantic and poetic. I think that this was the secret to his success. He had a deeply romantic connection to beauty, but this deep appreciation for beauty held a clean, modernist vein. Enhanced with color, his ultimate goal was to express this beauty in a single line. He worked doggedly to create his paintings—studying the colors and gradations, carefully painting square-by-square, inch-by-inch, and color-by-color. As a person, he was warm and loving, caring and thoughtful.  It is, in fact, through his rationalism that Craig was most effectively able to express his romantic and poetic nature: to him, this was the epitome of beauty and purity. What is that, if not pure poetry?

Lot Information:

Craig Ellwood
Capriccio
1981
Acrylic on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated in black felt tip marker verso; inscribed “#71” and “Italia/1981″ verso
93″ x 93” (as illustrated)
Estimate: $10,000 – 15,000
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Craig Ellwood
For Josef- Red #1
1979-1981
Masonite and plywood
#1 of 12
Signed, titled, and dated with edition in black felt tip marker verso; inscribed “60 cm x 60 cm/ Constructed in U.S.A./ 1979-80/ Painted in/ Italy 1981″ verso
23.75″ x 23.75”
Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Craig Ellwood
For Josef- Silver #1
1979-1981
Masonite and plywood
#1 of 12
Signed, titled, and dated with edition in black felt tip marker verso; inscribed “60 cm x 60 cm/ Constructed in U.S.A./ 1979-80/ Painted in Italy 1981″ verso
23.875″ x 23.75”
Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Craig Ellwood
For Josef- Black #1
1979-1981
Masonite and plywood
#1 of 12
Signed, titled, and dated with edition in black felt tip marker verso; inscribed “60 cm x 60 cm/ Constructed in U.S.A. 1979-80/ Painted in Italy 1981” verso
23.75″ x 23.75″
Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Craig Ellwood
For Josef- White #1
1979-1981
Masonite and plywood
#2 of 12
Signed, titled, and dated with edition in black felt tip marker verso; inscribed “Constructed in U.S.A. ’79-80/ Painted in Italy ’81/ 60 cm x 60 cm”
23.75″ x 23.875″
Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000

October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Craig Ellwood
Untitled (4)
1979-1980
Color print on paper
A: #1 of 1; B: #33 of 33; C: #44 of 66; D: #1 of 1
A: Signed and dated lower left sheet in graphite; inscribed “Unique Print” with edition lower left; B: Signed and dated with edition lower left sheet in graphite; blind stamp lower left; C: Signed and dated with edition lower left sheet in graphite, blind stamp lower left; D: Signed and dated lower right sheet in graphite; inscribed “Unique Print” with edition lower right
Sheets each (vis.): 35.875″ x 35.875″; Frames each: 36.125″ x 36.125″
Estimate: $3,000 – 4,000
October 9, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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