Jeff Koons' Studio, gouache on board, 18 x 18 in, 2015
Soul, oil on board, 10 x 10 in, 2015
Paris Garden, spraypaint+acrylic on canvas, 61 x 89 inches (155x226 cm)
Basquiat in London, spraypaint + acrylic on canvas, 56 x 42 in, 2015
Ai Wei Wei's Studio, gouache on board, 19 x 23 in
"Calder's Studio," gouache on board, 19 x 19 in, 2015
Bike, spray paint and acrylic on canvas, 2015
Lucien Freud's Studio, gouache on board, 19 x 23 in
"Peter Doig's Studio," gouache on board, 17 x 23 in, 2014, Damian Elwes
Picasso's Painting Studio in Cannes, mixed media on canvas, 66 x 66in (168 x 168 cm)
Matisse's Studio in Collioure, mixed media on canvas, 66 x 66 in 2015
Malibu, mixed media, 60 x 60 in, 2015
This painting describes a source of the Amazon River that exists at the top of an active volcano in southern Colombia.
(This is one of the nature installations that is being proposed for an Art Park on the Los Angeles River. Those installations trace the cycle of water from river source, to cloud forest, to rain forest, to coral reef.
"Source of the Amazon," 280 x 300 inches (711.2 x 762 cm)
Here is one of the four panels on the wall of my studio. (70 x 300 inches)
( It can also be exhibited as a giant floor painting where visitors find themselves walking over hundreds of exotic, flowering plants while searching for the source of the river.)
In Colombia, we would wake each day at 5am and have coffee on our balcony, gazing at the rainforest which extended into the distance.
A beautiful snow-covered volcano protruded from the forest, but by 6am, it had vanished into the clouds. In January each year, the volcano could be seen all day and the snow had melted. It was summer up there, and I began to ask the local indians about it. Most people warned me not to go up there because the volcano was active and exploded every few years. A friend told me that just below the crater there was an extraordinary plateau where the Amazon River had a source.
One January, my friend and I drove a jeep as far as we could up the volcano. We put on plastic suits and rubber boots and climbed the rest of the way through a cloud forest. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced on earth. There was no ground. We crawled through tunnels in the foliage. Sometimes we were deep down and saw strange grubs and caterpillars living there.
We were carrying ropes and tent pegs. When we reached the colorful plateau at the top of the volcano, we found the river source and made a grid over it using the ropes. Over the next eighteen months, I described this plateau in a vast, landscape painting.
The stream of water coming out of the ground split into three major rivers. The Magdalena travelled north through Colombia to the Caribbean. The Naranjo travelled west to the Pacific, and the Amazon travelled east all the way across the continent through the jungles of Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean.
This colorful, rain-drenched ecosystem seemed like it could exist at the bottom of the sea. This was summer, and all the plants were flowering. Every few years, the volcano explodes and molten lava kills all life on this plateau. But the rain is constant, the river continues to come up from the ground, and life begins again. It is the kind of ecosystem that existed millions of years before humanity and one that should exist millions of years from now.
The panels fit together on the ground. This artwork has so far been exhibited in Los Angeles and London, and visitors could walk all over it. The galleries observed that each visitor spent an average of thirty minutes with this artwork.
"…open your eyes to painting and…stop thinking. Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to "walk about" into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?" -Wassily Kandinsky, 1910
"Source of the Amazon," 280 x 300 inches (711.2 x 762 cm)
Here is another of the four panels on the wall of my studio. (70 x 300 inches)
House Beautiful Magazine-A painting of "Matisse's Studio," by Damian Elwes, in the home of Californian collectors
"Warhol's Factory," acrylic on canvas, 62 x 72 in, Damian Elwes
I was lucky enough to know Andy Warhol and I imagined how I could make a painting of his studio that reflected my love of his work.
Giacometti's Studio, gouache on board, 18 x 18 in, 2015
"Magritte's Studio", mixed media on canvas, 58 x 66 in, 2014
Despite his success, the painting activities of René Magritte were confined to a small corner of his living room in Belgium. Meanwhile, his paintings were always reaching out beyond the bounds of reality. He often painted an imaginary ocean outside this urban window. In "Personal Values" (1952), he filled the next door room with out-sized versions of his possessions.
"Salvador Dali's Studio," gouache on board, 17 x 23 in
I spent a day in Dali's Cadaques studio making this painting. After finishing the two walls, I went up to the roof and completed the landscape that had been partially visible through the two windows. The idea was inspired by an artwork in which Dali floated Velasquez's "Las Meninas" studio in the clouds.
"Picasso's Studio in Cannes," mixed media, 62 x72 in, 2005, Damian Elwes
This was the first painting that I made of Picasso's Studio in Cannes. While making this painting, I discovered that Picasso was using almost all the rooms on the ground floor of his art deco villa as studios. I then decided to join eight paintings together so that one could walk around the ground floor and see the hundreds of artworks that he was in the process of making in 1956.
"Matisse's Studio in Nice," mixed media on canvas, 60 x 60 in, 2006
Matisse liked to make paintings that contained a window into another world, and so I tried to echo that here. I drove along the coast visiting studios in the South of France. As I approached Nice, the sea changed to such a distinct color of blue, and I wanted that to be the focal point of this painting.
"Frida Kahlo's Studio in Coyoacan," mixed media on canvas, 62 x 72 in, 2008
It is fun to vista Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico City. The whole house is very colorful, but sadly, this first studio of hers is now an empty shell. Even the window and door has been filled in. Nevertheless, I stood there with all the information that I had gathered over the years and began to imagine just how the room was when Frida was working there.
Picasso's Studio at Rue de la Boetie, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 54 in, Damian Elwes
By 1918, Picasso had moved to a bourgeoise neighborhood near to the Champs Elyssée. In the only photographs from this period, he was wearing a suit and tie while painting. He had been in his neoclassical phase since marrying a Russian ballet dancer. However, he suddenly fell in love with a young girl called Marie Thérèse Walters, and his work began to evolve. He also produced his first sculptures, and there is one on the shelf, another on the mantlepiece and a third below the easel.
"Picasso's Studio at Rue Schoelcher in 1914," watercolor and charcoal, 14 x 18 in, Damian Elwes
All the studios start off as watercolor and charcoal drawings like this one. They then become gouaches and then sometimes they become large canvases. Sydney Picasso helped me to locate all of her father-in-law's studios in Paris. She said that none of the Picasso family had been to this one, but she knew that it was currently occupied by an architect. When he answered the door, I asked him how the studio had changed architecturally since Picasso's time? He invited me in and kindly let me make this painting.
"Picasso's Studio at Boulevard Clichy," gouache on board, 17 x 23 in, 2010, Damian Elwes
When Cubism became a success, Picasso moved down the hill from the Bateau Lavoir to a 19th century studio building. A century later, I stood in front of this place and tried to deduce which was Picasso's studio. I had a photo that he had taken of Sacre Coeur from his window. All of the top floor windows were curved like the one in the photo, but only the studio on the top right corner had a view of Sacre Coeur. So I went upstairs and knocked on the door, but there was no response. I started knocking on adjacent doors, but just then the owner arrived. She only let me in because she was curious to know if this was truly Picasso's apartment. I showed her all the evidence, and she let me make my painting.
"Picasso's Studio at the Bateau Lavoir," mixed media on canvas, 52 x 84 in, Damian Elwes
In 2015, the Fleming Museum created an exhibition about 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,' and they asked me to come and talk about Picasso. MOMA does not loan out 'Les Demoiselles.' So the Fleming has taken my painting of 'Picasso's Bateau Lavoir Studio' and projected it into the entire space of a room using computer technology. Visitors entering the exhibition find themselves in Picasso's studio at the moment when he had just finished his masterpiece. My painting contains all of the various influences that led to this breakthrough moment when Picasso became the preeminent painter in Paris. It was a thrilling experience, and I can imagine how museums in the future could use any of my studio paintings in a similar way. Visitors were able to pick up an iPad and point it towards any of the Demoiselles in order to see all of Picasso's sketches that led to the creation of that woman.
"Matisse's Studio in Collioure," mixed media on canvas, 66 x 66 in, 2005, Damian Elwes
This little port on the south coast of France attracts tourism because it was here that Matisse and Derain spent their summers painting. After 1907, Matisse would rent a house in the Port which is visible through the window. However, in 1905, he took a photo through this window from a studio where he was inventing Fauvism. 100 years later, I asked the old men playing boules on the beach where they thought that old photo was taken. They agreed that the only building with the windows above the doors was right behind us. The little tree in my painting is now huge, and the table and chairs on the beach are situated where there is now a bustling restaurant. I had located his Fauvist studio. Amazingly, the current occupants were unaware that Matisse had been here.
"Cezanne's Studio during the creation of the Large Bathers," gouache on board, 18 x 23 in, 2008, Damian Elwes
Cezanne's studio in Aix-en-Provence is now a museum. Tours go through it every 20 minutes, but they allowed me to sit at his little desk to make a sketch. The tour guide kept repeating how nothing had changed since Cezanne's death, but I suddenly realized that all the studio furniture was out of place. There is a photo of Cezanne sitting in front of this canvas of "The Large Bathers" (1895-1906) with the stove behind it, but what may have confused the museum staff is that the stove has been moved. I located the place where it used to be, and sure enough, there was a line of green and blue paint across the floor boards where the easel had been.
Gauguin's Studio in the Marquesas Islands, mixed media on canvas, 62 x 72 in, 2005, Damian Elwes
Tahiti was not the Garden of Eden that Gauguin had hoped for. He was desperately poor and painted some of his masterpieces on burlap sacks. He even had to take a job at the Post Office. At the end of his life, he moved to the Marquesas Islands where he found a more perfect environment for creating his incredible paintings.
"Gauguin's Studio," mixed media on canvas, 66 x 86 in, 2006
I have painted each of the seven studios that Gauguin had in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. This is the most accurate one from that series. It is the only studio that Gauguin built for himself (1898-99), and luckily, there is one surviving photograph of the interior and one of the exterior. Those images are very grainy and difficult to read, but after drawing them over and over again, I began to make out the digging tools and other elements among the straw on the ground.
"Monet's first Studio at Giverny," mixed media on canvas, 62 x 72 in, 2004, Damian Elwes
Monet's first studio at Giverny was in his house, and it remains mostly intact. Unfortunately, the view of the garden outside was obscured by the construction of a larger outdoor studio where he created the "Water Lilies" series.
"Gauguin's Studio in Tahiti in 1895," mixed media on canvas, 62 x 72 in, 2003, Damian Elwes
The further one goes back in time, the more challenging it is to create a particular studio. I looked through Sotheby's and Christie's catalogues for all of Gauguin's belongings that have ever been sold. The trunk is the one that he brought from Paris while the bed, the armchair, bottles, bowls and fruit appeared in paintings from that period. It was also imperative to read Gauguin's diaries and written descriptions by people who visited him. This painting is owned by Donald Sutherland who played Gauguin in the film "Wolf at the Door."
GRAFFITI NY + LONDON
From 1983-84, I painted graffiti in an abandoned building in New York City. Soon my abstract paintings were hanging beside the works of Basquiat and Haring in an exhibition called "Paris/New York" by the Robert Fraser Gallery.
"New York Rooftops I," spray paint, 8 x 14 ft, 1984, Damian Elwes
After college, I worked on a film in New York. It was the early 80s, and there was graffiti everywhere. You'd see a new Basquiat poem on a wall one day, and within week later other artists had added to it. Until then I had thought of painting as being rather static and dead, but this kind of painting was alive and metamorphosing every day.
"Boys," spray paint, 5 x 7 ft, Damian Elwes
One day on the film set, I had to keep a crowd at bay inside the entrance of the 34th Street subway station. Keith Haring appeared and started drawing on a poster and we struck up a conversation. I told him that his job looked a lot more fun than mine. He invited me to have a go, but I said that I didn't think I could paint over his work. Later, we went to a party together, and he encouraged me to buy some spray paint and find myself an empty wall.
"Abstract Graffiti," spray paint, 1984
I knew about a building on West 56th Street and 7th Avenue that was empty and condemned to be torn down. My boss had just moved out but I still had the keys. One weekend I bought spray paint and covered some walls in abstract graffiti. I passed out. Upon awakening, I blew my nose and colors came out. I looked around and saw that the room was filled with my imagination and I was hooked.
"New York Rooftops II," 8 x 16 ft, 1984, Damian Elwes
Over the next year I filled all the rooms with paintings and even painted the roof, but the city kept putting large locks on the door and signs saying, 'KEEP OUT GRAFFITI ARTIST.' Behind my empty building, the fire escape was only a couple of feet from the fire escape of the Hotel Wellington. I spied a dark room that was full of rolled carpets and furniture. I climbed up and found the window open. The bathroom had running water. That 7th floor room became the entrance to my studio.
English art dealer Robert Fraser came to New York looking for graffiti artists for an exhibition called "Paris/New York." I took his assistant to the Hotel Wellington on 7th Avenue. By then, the hotel staff thought that I lived there. I bought a newspaper, as I did every day, and the bellboy said, "Good morning Mr. Elwes." We took an elevator to the 7th floor. I opened the door to the room with a credit card and we stepped out of the window and climbed across to the fire escape of "my" building. He and Fraser liked my paintings and invited me to be a part of the exhibition with Basquiat and Haring.
"Derelict house near the Post Office Tower in London," spray paint, 1985, Damian Elwes
Back in London I started painting graffiti in the streets. I searched for interesting walls that could frame and be a part of potential paintings. My brothers and I had grown up in London in the sixties, and bomb sites left over from the war had been our playgrounds.
"Explosion," spray paint, 1985, Damian Elwes
This was an empty building on the corner of the Kings Road opposite Safeway. None of my friends knew that I was painting graffiti. It seemed safer to keep quiet about it.
"Camden Town," spray paint, 1985, Damian Elwes
I also liked temporary walls that already had beautiful colors going on.
"Fish," spray paint, Earls Court Road, London 1985 Damian Elwes
Robert Fraser wanted me to stay in London and do a solo show on Cork Street. He said, "You know that you are the only English graffiti artist at this time?" He took me to meet Basquiat. We had a great connection, but I wanted to go to Paris and learn how to paint with a brush. Robert was still interested in a show and asked to see my Paris paintings in six months. Sadly he became very ill and succumbed to Aids. He was one of the great art dealers, and I was amazed and grateful that he showed such belief in me. Mick Jagger was a great friend of his and I have always wondered whether it was just coincidence that he bought a Paris painting and began to collect my work.
2005 PICASSO'S VILLA
Eight paintings connect to describe the ground floor of Picasso's Villa La Californie in Cannes. A visitor entering the front door of Picasso's home in April, 1956 would be be confronted by this view of the three large rooms facing the garden that were being used as studios.
Picasso was producing an extraordinary amount of art at this moment in his life, and he allowed several photographers to come and record this. Among them were Edward Quinn and David Duncan Douglas (who gave his blessing to this project). I spread out all the photographs that were taken and put them together like a jigsaw puzzle before beginning this painting.
"Picasso's Villa," paintings I + II, each 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m)
"In this installation, Elwes deals with the most prodigious artist of our time during one of his most intense phases of creativity. In the mid-fifties, Picasso had just fallen in love with his last wife Jaqueline. His great rival Matisse had recently died, and he had no one to compete with. Luckily, Jaqueline's face reminded him of one of the women in Delacroix's masterpiece, 'Women of Algiers,' and thus began a series ofpaintings in which Picasso pitted his talents against those of the old master. Suddenly, the whole ground floor of his villa was filled to the brim with portraits of Jaqueline interspersed with representations of himself as bull, owl, goat and satyr. Elwes' work describes a period after April, 1956 when Picasso had just completed several paintings of his own studio, a rare occurrence. He then made an amazing painting of his muse in his studio. In that painting, Jaqueline is looking at a blank canvas on an easel. It is a meditation on the making of art."
extract from an essay by Fred Hoffman (Curator of the Basquiat retrospectives at MOCA and the Brooklyn Museum)
"Picasso's Villa," The Grand Salon, each painting 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m)
After entering the front door of the villa, this is the room on the opposite side that leads to the garden. Each month, the Madoura Pottery would deliver several crates of ceramics, and this is where most of them were unpacked and painted. Sydney Picasso spent several hours examining the installation and told me many stories about the details. On the right above the sofa, there is a bullfight painting made by Claude Picasso for his father with the inscription, "pour mon papa cheri." Above that is a painting of a bowl of cherries which was a secret portrait of Claude's mother, Francoise Gilot. On the the sofa rests a kite which Picasso made for Paloma and Claude. In the center of the room, Picasso is taking apart the children's stroller in order to create a sculpture.
"Picasso's Villa," The Dining Room, each painting 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m)
"These paintings are literally a feast for the eye and mind. Each of Elwes’ paintings is the result of copious research, from which he has assembled all extant documentation on any and every item which Picasso surrounded himself with. These include all the notebooks, sketches, African masks, works in production (such as paintings, prints, ceramics and sculpture), as well as gifts from friends, articles of clothing and even artworks by his own children. All of these 'things' have been included in Elwes’ work with the goal of accurately documenting the conditions in which the master worked."
(extract from an essay by Fred Hoffman)
The entire painting wraps around three walls. This image shows half of it.
"Picasso's Villa," Painting Studio I, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
In the center is a mirrored door. To the right is a painting called "The Shadow." In that painting, Francoise Gilot is asleep on a sofa the day before she left Picasso. He entered the room, and his shadow fell over her body. On the left easel is a painting of his new wife sitting in the rocking chair looking at an empty canvas on the easel.
"Picasso's Villa," Painting Studio II, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
This is the other side of the painting studio. On the mantlepiece, there are two bottles of absinthe and a sculpture of a boy's head that was in Picasso's Bateau Lavoir studio fifty years earlier. On the sculpture stand to the right, there is a red, toy bus made for his children. The chair in the center is now on display at the Picasso Museum in Paris. On the chair is a newspaper which Picasso used as his palette. The newspaper absorbed the oil from his colors allowing them to dry far more rapidly. This was how Picasso was able to produce so many paintings.
"Picasso's Villa," Grand Salon II, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
On the easel to the left is a print of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." The work surrounding it seems to be influenced by that painting. Jacqueline, dressed as one of Delacroix's "Women of Algiers," appears in two paintings and in three ceramic plates on the floor. The other ceramics are of goats, owls, bulls and satyrs, creatures that Picasso identified with.
"Picasso's Villa," Grand Salon II, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
There is a book of poems by Rimbaud on the table by the window. In the corner of the room is sculpture made out of pipes. Some artworks in this painting (like that sculpture in the corner and the kite on the sofa) have not survived the test of time.
"Picasso's Villa," Dining Room I, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
On the chair to the left is a painting by Picasso of his studio. On the chair in the center is a painting of his wife in the studio looking at a painting of the studio on an easel.
"Picasso's Villa," Dining Room II, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
On the shelf in the center of the wall, there is a bust of Dora Maar, an African sculpture, a bird cage and a gold clock that was a gift from Picasso's art dealer, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler.
"Picasso's Villa," Dining Room III, 66 x 66 in (1.68 x 1.68 m) Damian Elwes
Tiles that Picasso and his daughter Paloma have painted are displayed on the table. On the right wall is another little painting by Paloma of her step-mother, a bullfight announcement, a boomerang and the famous "Bull's Head" sculpture made from a bicycle seat and handlebars. Throughout my painting are French newspapers from April, 1956 that can actually be read.
I lived close to a rainforest in Colombia for seven years and almost every day I encountered some miracle of nature.
Fallen Tree, 1998
This painting is about the cycle of life.
One day, some Colombian indians took me to a primary forest of mahogany on the top of a mountain. Those trees rose several hundred feet into the air, like Greek columns, before branching out into a canopy. Eventually, we came to a clearing where an old tree had crumpled to the ground. As it decayed, it nourished new saplings.
"Forest of Statues" 1997
Twelve adjoining panels that form a circular painting.
I based the dimensions of this circle on the "Hunting Lodge" at Avesbury. It is likely that such places were once surrounded by trees. The ancient stone columns would have created windows looking into the forest.
As I made this painting, I was thinking about how trees may have had a spiritual significance to those early people. I exhibited this piece at the Richard Salmon Gallery in London in 1998. During that exhibition, an ancient circle of upturned oak trees was exposed on the coast of England.
"Forest of Statues," 80 x 73 inches, 1997-1998
This particular forest in Colombia is very close to an ancient stone circle. There are also many tombs, guarded by stone statues of indian warriors. Humans once lived in this forest, and it now survives as a national park. The art that they left behind has helped to protect and preserve this small forest.
"Forest of Statues," 12 paintings, each 80 x 73 inches, 1997-98
"Edge of the Forest VI, VII + VIII," 1996
This is the first of the five large landscape installations that I created in Colombia.
12 paintings join together to create a 360 degree square panorama. The paintings surround the viewer on all four sides.
"Edge of the Forest V," 1997
Each painting in this series contains a pathway leading to a different place.
"Edge of the Forest Vll," 1997
I made this painting when we had just moved to Colombia, and my wife was pregnant with our first child.
"Edge of the Forest VIll," 1997
The paintings surround the viewer just as the womb surrounds a baby.
"Edge of the Forest X," 1997
In life, we constantly encounter different paths.
"Edge of the Forest XI," mixed media on canvas, 74 inches x 69 inches
This is a path into the forest. On the other side of the installation is the path into the home. Those were my choices at that time in my life: to live in the country where I had grown up or to venture further into the forest. I chose the path into the forest because I wanted to do whatever I could to save it.
This painting is currently on exhibit at ESMOA which is a very cool new museum in Los Angeles.
It describes a rounded mountain where indian tribes once lived and where they left painted statues. Beyond it, to the left, is the volcano Puracé. That is the active volcano which has an exotic plateau just below the crater which I described in my vast landscape painting, "Source of the Amazon."
"Edge of the Forest X, XI, XII," 1997
My friend, David Hockney once said to me, "What could be more spiritual than abstraction?"
"Trees," I replied.
A few days later he came to see my exhibition at Bergamot Station.