I was born in Chicago on September 24, 1948, to Olaf and Marguerite Ellison and raised in Downers Grove, Illinois. At the age of 41/2, I contracted Encephalitis Lethargica, Sleeping Sickness, along with over 50 other children and adults. We were bitten by Tsetse flies, which hatched from the larva contained in fruit brought from Africa by a missionary. About a dozen of us survived and only a few were left functional. My fever rose to 108o and I was in a coma for 6 weeks. My brain was wiped clean. The doctors gave my parents little hope, saying I would be severely retarded. My parents refused to accept this diagnosis and prayed for my full recovery. When I came home from the hospital my mother began retraining as a newborn infant. I entered kindergarten 6 months late. Among my learning disabilities are Dyslexia which actually made me good at art, a poor short-term memory compensated for by a phenomenal long term memory and Narcolepsy with the flip side of a high energy level. The school district’s solution was to put me in “special school”. My mother would not hear of this because she was determined all three of her children would go to college. To the consternation of all but a few of my teachers she demanded full inclusion for me. Throughout public school I had to work twice as hard as my peers to learn the same things. My mother taught me two important things; a disability is not an excuse but a reason to try harder and I was spared for a purpose, which God would reveal.
The brain damage had been mostly to my left side, which was a blessing because it left me very artistic. In first grade the teacher assigned a classroom mural on butcher paper about summer vacations. I saw a post card of the Statue of Liberty she had on her wall and asked if I could draw it. The teacher, amazed by my drawing, kept after my parents to take me to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for Saturday art lessons. My parents could not afford it. So my mother would take me to The Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago as often as she could and found a local private art teacher for me. We lived near a 100 acre woods and my earliest artwork was of nature. Then two incidents convinced me I wanted to be a professional artist: The first was a visit to the Art Institute when my mother had me walk through a narrow door. To the right was a maze of dots. I asked my mother, “What is this mess?” She told me to turn my back on it, walk to the other side of the room and turn around. There before me, in its entire splendor, was Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. I wanted to use color like him to make something appear out of nothing. The second event occurred when my Aunt Helen took me to her church where Warner Sallman was demonstrating and talking about art and faith. I saw him create the pastel painting of The Good Shepherd. I, too, wanted to inspire people with my art.
I received my B.F.A. from Eastern Michigan University, was married to my childhood sweetheart Marci Schattenberg, a polio survivor, and went on for my M.A. & M.F.A. degrees at Northern Illinois University. At that time I was an abstract expressionist with a fantasy/Surrealistic twist, but the painting program there wanted me to be a Hard Edge painter, so I transferred to the ceramics program. There I became a glaze chemist doing my paintings in glaze effects on the fantastic forms I created. When I came back to painting years later, this was of great benefit because I understood volume and depth in a way that most painters cannot. Afterwards I served as a Captain in the Army, then as the Director of the Beverly Art Center, School of the Arts. During this time my two children Jennifer and Peter were born. Later I was a ceramics teacher at South Holland Community College in Illinois.
While struggling to be a professional artist and teacher, I received a prophetic call from God and headed to the seminary with my wife and two children. I wrongly gave up art, thinking that God wanted me to deny this part of myself. I received my Master of Divinity and pursued the ministry for twelve years until it was revealed to me that the ministry was a preparation for my call to reach people through my art. So I re-entered the art world with God at my side as a Symbolic-Realist painter, sculptor and potter.
I have shown my art in national and international shows, winning many awards. My work has appeared in the Manhattan Arts International Magazine and the Encyclopedia of Living Artists. I have received two honorary titles: Professor of Art, Academical Associated del Verbano; Accadamia Internazionale “Greci-Marino”, Acadamia del Verbano Italia, di Lettere, Arti, Scienze and Academic Honorem of Santarita, Order of Arts Michelangelo Buonarroti from the International Academy Santarita, Turin, Italy. Eleven of my paintings have been published as signed and numbered limited editions. I have copyrighted and published The Perceptual Color Corona, a revolutionary color system, based on the negative afterimage to get better color matches, vibrating color contrasts, and luminescent color harmonies. I have created a method of artistic interpretation and communication by combining my divinity work with cultural anthropology and Jungian psychology through the use of color, line and shape. During this time I taught art at Nogales High School in La Puente California.
Having retired form teaching, I have become a full time artist painting, sculpting and creating pottery. I like to hike and paint on location and became a docent for the Puente Hills Habitat Authority leading art hikes into the wilderness. My artwork can be seen in the co-op Gallery SOHO of the Pomona Valley Art Association in Montclair Plaza Montclair, CA.
Also my artwork is on line at http://civa-artists.ning.com/profile/JamesBryanEllison.