Damian Elwes


Damian Elwes, born August 1960, is a British artist who lives and works in Santa Monica, California.

In the 1980s, Elwes lived in New York, where he was an early exponent of graffiti. In 1984 some of his first paintings were chosen by the eminent London art dealer, Robert Fraser, to be included in a graffiti exhibition with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

His interest in ancient and contemporary methods of art making led him to spend time in Italy and Morocco. From 1992–2000, he lived in southern Colombia, in a house and studio that he built overlooking a rain forest. There he created four "dream-sites", paintings so large that viewers can walk around inside them. A floor painting, "Fallen Tree" (1997) describes the cycle of life in one of the last surviving forests of mahogany. In a clearing in the forest, one old tree has fallen to the ground and is decaying. New saplings can be seen growing from the dead tree. This same cycle exists in painting and in all forms of innovation. So, while this work might be seen as a spur for conscience, it also contains an indication of Elwes' confidence in the power and continuity of creativity. In London, 2010, Damian Elwes exhibited an even larger floor painting about the origin of life. That artwork depicts a primary source of the Amazon River which exists at the summit of a Colombian volcano called Puracé. The painting was placed under plexiglass in the gallery and visitors could walk all over it. For the surrounding walls, Elwes created contemporary cave paintings of a woman asleep in that exotic ecosystem.

A documentary, 'Inside Picasso's Studio' (2006) follows Elwes as he creates a vast painting describing the various studios on ground floor of Picasso's "Villa La Californie", as they were in April 1956. The painting wraps around several walls and viewers are able to walk from room to room while examining hundreds of Picasso's artworks in progress. Curator Fred Hoffman wrote, "While we, the viewer, are immediately intrigued and invited to partake of these historical moments, what actually sustains, even heightens our interest, is Damian Elwes' ability to turn documentation and historical record into compelling pictorial visions requiring repeated viewing and constant deciphering. Elwes' concern for historical accuracy, and his subsequent investigative process enable his fully realized paintings to have a freshness and immediacy which none of the source material contains nor conveys. It is not, therefore, the fact that he has painted Picasso’s studio that makes Elwes' work of interest. Rather, it is his ability to use the historical source material about Picasso to achieve some immediacy for his own concerns as a painter. In the end, it is the expressive quality of these works that we feel drawn to."