Many sons of famous people opt to blaze their own trails in life. "That was me," said artist Harrison Ellenshaw, the son of Academy-Award winning visual artist and Disney legend Peter Ellenshaw. "I found my father's passion and incredible talent intimidating. I was convinced I could never live up to any of it." Though Ellenshaw pursued many interests while growing up, "cars, girls, and getting poor grades in school," he said—the artistic aptitude that had taken root during a childhood spent in his father's creative shadow blossomed into a remarkable career in its own right. Following in his father's footsteps, in retrospect, seems inevitable. In doing so, Harrison Ellenshaw created his own enduring legacy.
Having grown up at the foot of the elder legend's easel, the younger Ellenshaw showed prodigious enthusiasm and aptitude for oil painting even at a very early age. By the time he was a teenager he had become an accomplished artist able to replicate his father's seascapes, reflecting a skilled touch necessary to recreate, as realistically as possible, the fantastic energy and grace of nature. "I had grown up fascinated by my father's painting." Ellenshaw said. "He would sometimes give me canvas and paints…I have photographs of me painting when I was a small boy. My father's life was painting, even during meals he would bring the canvases he was working on into the kitchen and sit and eat and look, criticizing his own work. My mother was not always pleased that this was how the family spent mealtime, but she understood his passion."
After graduating from Whittier College with a BA in psychology, Ellenshaw spent three years in the Navy, where he spent extensive tours of Asia and the Pacific as a junior officer. When he got out, in the early 70s, the country was in the throes of a recession and he struggled to find a job. "I remember driving with my father one day," Ellenshaw recalled, "and he said, ‘Well, you know, just for the time being, if you're interested, the matte department at Disney is looking for apprentices.'" The department head at that time was Alan Maley, who had worked as a matte artist with Harrison's father in years past. "So I went and talked to Alan, and we agreed that we'd give it six months."
In doing so, Ellenshaw bravely stepped into his father's shadow at Walt Disney Studios, the very same place where the elder artist established his most enduring legacy. It was there as a matte painter, that Ellenshaw further refined his sensibilities as an artist. And Maley became his lifeline. "Alan became my mentor," Harrison says, "and it was due to his enthusiasm and encouragement that I really got bitten by the film bug. It had been unique growing up having a father who knew and worked for Walt Disney, he was a living legend, an icon. But in a sense I took being in a 'show business family' for granted. It was Alan who showed me what was so special about film, about matte paintings, how your work on shots could be an integral part of telling a story." After about four years, Maley retired. "He told me I could take over as department head," Ellenshaw said. "It usually takes twelve years as a journeyman to become a department head. The studio was a little hesitant and I was scared to death." Maley offered to return to give Ellenshaw a hand if necessary, so he took the job.
Then, Ellenshaw got a life-changing opportunity. "Fate smiled on me, as it had for my father," he said about joining George Lucas's effects studio Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and getting the chance to ply his talents, producing many of the trademark effects backgrounds for both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. At this point, a tale of two Ellenshaws becomes the tale of two separate artists, as the younger Ellenshaw began to really strike out on his own, away from his father's legacy. His work on Star Wars was so well received by critics and fans that he was asked to return to work on The Empire Strikes Back. By this time, having clearly carved a niche for himself, Ellenshaw had no problem working with his father on Disney's "The Black Hole" in 1979, for which both father and son were nominated for an Academy Award (It was then that Ellenshaw changed his name from Peter to Harrison to avoid confusion.).
Flush with success, he then went solo again, adding his unforgettable touch to the cult classic, "Tron," one of the most unique and visually stunning films ever. As the visual effects supervisor, he had the distinction of being the first person to have been given that credit in a film. After work on "Captain Eo," "Superman IV," "Ghost" and other films, Ellenshaw, when he worked on "Dick Tracy," the film that added to his artistic credibility and firmly established him as an elite leader and creative innovator in the field. "The matte paintings were visually the star of that film," he said. "And by then I was doing some fine art painting on my own."
Despite having blazed new trails in the world of major motion pictures and contributing significantly to the look and feel of futuristic, fantastical worlds, Ellenshaw's gallery artwork remains grounded in a lyrical reflection of the real world. It was around the time when he was immersed in the incredibly colorful world of Dick Tracy that an exhibition of Fauve artists came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Fauve, "wild beasts" in French, was a name given to a group of up-and-coming artists in the 1900s, including Matisse and Derain. The Fauve painters took a traditional art form and began subverting familiar forms and objects and colors, painting familiar objects with startlingly intense, even "wrong," colors, in an attempt to "liberate color."). "Up until this point I had been painting trees with black, gray and brown trunks and green leaves," he said. "And then I came across the Fauves, who were only in existence a few years, and their intense use of color. They had done something I really enjoyed and appreciated. So I began to paint far more colorfully than I had in the past. Today, I enjoy painting as much as ever and I enjoy doing things that are really colorful. The great thing is that now with the giclee process of making prints, you can match the colors perfectly."
One of the commonalities between film and painting is the necessity to establish a third dimension in a two-dimension medium
. Ellenshaw has accomplished this illusion deftly and impressively. He brings to his paintings a facile and dynamic use of color reminiscent of the Fauves and Expressionists. With a diverse subject matter and high-key palette, Ellenshaw's landscapes, cityscapes and riverscapes create a new approach to realism. His works have a resonance, and inner radiance fashioned with a brush alive to new possibilities and horizons. His credentials speaks to the enormity of his artistic talents and range as a painter, and his work has been exhibited at the prestigious Hammer Galleries in New York, as well as galleries in London San Francisco, and other galleries throughout the country and internationally.
Lifelong travels abroad in Europe and throughout the Southwest of America have continually expanded Ellenshaw's visual horizons-leading him to the colorful and dynamic works we see today. He is now pursuing his passion for fine art painting. Many works have been created, of both Disney Fine Art and non-Disney themed subjects, which are thought highly collectable.
World Wide Art
World Wide Art is known for its wide selection of limited editions and originals by renowned artists, including the luminescent works of Harrison Ellenshaw. Their expert staff also specializes in custom conservation framing
. In business since 1996, World Wide Art is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a well-known art shop for both serious collectors and casual decorators. The staff at World-Wide-Art.com not only deals art, but are collectors and artists themselves who consider their work a labor of love and lifestyle of art appreciation.