A thick impasto and bold brushwork characterize this Palm Springs scene by Santa Fe’s Fremont Ellis. An avid student of the Impressionists, Ellis was nonetheless an enthusiastic supporter of modern art and the abstract in other painters, though his own work remained figurative. Here one sees a surprising, because home grown, affinity with the European expressionists Soutine and Khmeluk. As a painter, absolutely his own man, a painter who feels as much as sees.
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Fremont Ellis (1897-1985) is perhaps most well-remembered as one of the founding members of Los Cinco Pintores, Santa Fe’s first modernist art group. The group consisted of Ellis, Józef Bakós, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster. Ellis was the first of his colleagues to arrive in Santa Fe in 1919. He came from Montana by way of California and El Paso with little art training (he studied briefly at the Art Students League in New York). When he arrived in Santa Fe he found no formal exhibition group like the Taos Society of Artists. Thus in the Fall of 1921, in a visionary gesture, Los Cinco Pintores was formed. The five young painters, all under thirty, considered themselves the radical young avant-garde artists of Santa Fe. They had all absorbed something of the idealism and new social concepts which were in the air after World War I. The Cincos advocated that modern art was for the common man. As written in their initial statement of purpose, “The concept is that art is universal, that it sings to the peasant laborer as well as to the connoisseur.”
Though their manifesto clearly advocated abstracted work, the Cincos actually painted in several genres, including landscape, still life and portraiture. In December of 1921, Los Cinco Pintores held their inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. In what was characteristic of their work, an art critic noted that “these men believe in color and are not afraid to use it. Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that’s almost stimulating. ”Although tagged with the label “modernist” (mostly for exhibition purposes), it is clearly evident in Ellis’s paintings that he never seriously accepted the modernist idiom into his work. His romantic landscapes, indebted to impressionist light and brushwork, link his work more closely to that of the Taos founders than to any experimental Santa Fe painting. A self-taught artist of “earthy humility,” Ellis “has a vigorous way of applying his paint with a controlled fluency that gives his landscapes a boldness that is appealing.” (Van Deren Coke)