ST. PETERSBURG — In the upcoming exhibit at Gallerie 909, “All I Am — Faces of a City,” artist Eckwood Ellison invites us to come face to face with the homeless of St. Pete through his collection of arresting, life-like portraits.
Originally from South Carolina, Ellison has been a resident of Pinellas County for almost five years. It was in his day-to-day routines here that he came into contact with more than a few homeless people. After meeting and taking the time to speak to some of them, he was soon on a first-name basis with them. Wanting to do his part to shed “a little bit of light on that situation,” Ellison decided to the commit the contours of their faces—the roadmaps of their lives—to canvas.
“You have to kind of catch them in their element to get the whole feel of what’s going on with them,” he explained. “One thing about the homeless, each one of them has a story about what they did before they were homeless, what they’re doing now and what they dream about doing in the future. I believe that we should change the situation in a place with so much opportunity.”
Surrounded by a creative energy from a family full of artists, the 35-year-old Ellison has been doing portraits his entire life.
“It’s hereditary,” he said, “it runs in my family,” adding that he has had no formal training. “All my life I just wanted to draw, I really didn’t care that people paid me for it, I just wanted to draw. After a while I realized people will purchase your artwork, you can make a living at this, so I just wanted to be able to do the work I wanted to do.”
Ellison explained that he can get a “feel” of who a person is when he takes a subject’s photo, which he does before his first brushstroke of a particular portrait.
“I love being able to capture the expression of people,” he said. “You can tell a lot of what that person’s going through, you can see it in their face and you can see it in their eyes. I enjoy being able to capture that.”
Admitting that he always likes to tap into his creativity and keep his hands occupied, he also does sketches — some of famous figures such as actor Burt Reynolds, President John F. Kennedy and activist Malcolm X. In a world where more and more people are turning to technology to produce visuals of all sorts, he said he loves the process of creating something with his “own two hands.”
“I enjoy the process of having a blank sheet of paper and then two, three hours later when I look up, there’s a face there,” Ellison stated. “A face that looks like I can reach out and touch. I can touch the nose, I can touch the eyes.”
A husband and father of two, Ellison believes that all the people that come into his life are in a way his “family.”
“I enjoy my kids, I love my family,” he attested, “and not just the family that stays in this apartment with me, my family that I meet on the street. My family extends to everyone I come in contact with! Every time I meet someone, I’m looking to make a connection.”
The opening artist reception will be held this Sat., Dec. 12 from 5-9 p.m. at Gallerie 909, located at 909 22nd St. S.