Our forty sixth interview in this new series of intimate interviews is with talented mobile photography and artist, James Ellis from Kentucky, United States. James narrates this interview with a vivid and searing account of his life growing up and into adulthood. His magnificent images complement this gripping account. Enjoy!
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarni, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Field, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frederic Deschênes, Mark Schnidman, Fatma Korkut, Fleur Schim, Rob Pearson-Wright, Dieter Gaebel and myself, go here.
All images ©James Ellis
What was your earliest childhood ambition?
I was born in the 70’s and my father had one of the very first personal computers…. a Model II TRS80… I started taking children’s classes from the time I was 10 at the university of Kentucky and learned how to program in basic… from that point on I wanted to be a computer scientist.
As a child I was always obsessed with comic books… I loved the art and the story telling… I began to draw quite a bit. As I got older I got the book “how to draw comics the Marvel way” by Stan Lee. And I got better… began inking my work. Later in high school a friend introduced me to acrylic paint and I began to do full on paintings… Later in my sophomore year I won an art contest with a painting I had done of King Arthur… looking back it wasn’t a great painting but it felt really good to be acknowledged.
My father was a professor at the University of Kentucky working in soil chemistry… He later built a greenhouse for the family… that greenhouse grew into several greenhouses and I was raised working in them… I can remember transplanting tomato’s into peat pots for a quarter a tray… I was probably 5 years old at the time.
Private or State school
I was born in Thailand and spent the first two and a half years there… my siblings got to go to school internationally but I didn’t… I went to first grade in Kentucky at a state school and in second grade I was in Hawaii for half the year but got to come back to Kentucky for the second half and the coldest snowiest winter on record… talk about a culture shock. The rest of my schooling was in Kentucky.
University or work
A little of both… after high school I started full time work in the family business which was raising plants in a greenhouse and selling them at our several outdoor flower markets. At seventeen I took over running the flower market (Sunshine Grow Shop) in Frankfort Kentucky… at one time we had 18 shops across the state. I came home from work one day and my mom told me she had enrolled me in college and I started the next week. I studied graphic arts at Kentucky Technical School.
Who was or still is your mentor?
In one sense, and probably the most important, my parents were my mentors and my brothers and sister. I got my work ethic from my mom and dad as well as my sense of adventure. I got my love of reading and music from my oldest brother and sister… and I learned to be cool from my middle brother (I kinda fell short on that part… but I enjoyed the lessons).
I was also mentored by several really great artists on the Worth1000 website. Oberdart, Bajazet, and Duchamp42 all taught me valuable art lessons. And although Worth1000 is no more I still get to play with some really cool people on daggerbay.com and Facebook.
How physically fit are you?
For an old fat balding guy I do alright… I still run a flower shop and on days that i am there for the full ten hours I walk about 23,000 steps. I have been known to bike to work on occasions… I’m not sure I could run a marathon… I am sure it will kill me if I try.
Ambition or Talent. What matters more to success?
For me it’s ambition…. there are far more naturally talented artists than me but I just keep cracking away at it till I get what I want.
How politically committed are you?
I am not politically committed… I should say I am not politically confident either (that was what autocorrect brought up the first time spelled committed) I have good friends on both sides of party lines and I lean liberal these days but I feel both sides are lying and that big money owns both the liberals and conservatives in my country. They had a movement in the USA a few years back called “occupy Wall Street” when the protesters were asked why they were not protesting in Washington D.C. the answered they wanted to bypass the middle men. And the more I think about the influencers on social media, such as Facebook, the more I see Russian ghosts playing both sides of the issue to cause strife.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Aside from a “Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.”
Or world peace ( I could put that on eBay and make a mint)
All jokes aside money can’t buy happiness… as the cliché goes… but it does help make you less miserable. And you always have to ask yourself is the juice worth the squeeze… if I own a great big mansion with a big yard… how much harder am I gonna have to work to take care of it… afford it etc… I like to travel and take care of my family… go see movies and as long as I have that I’m happy… oh and I want a Tesla.
What is my biggest extravagance?
I don’t waste a lot of money… I do own a lot of shoes, books, and electronic devices. And I love the movies… and a good bottle of Kentucky bourbon… so there isn’t one great big extravagance, but a lot of little ones.
In what places are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I’m with my friends and family. I’m also pretty happy at an all inclusive resort in Mexico. It’s hard to be sad at Disney World… but I really like Universals Harry Potter world. Oh and I’m going to a renaissance fair tomorrow… wearing a kilt for the first time not sure how happy I’ll be but I’m sure I’ll be breezy.
What ambitions do you still have?
I want to write a book and get published… I have been published in book form before but that was for a cover I designed… I want to write something in urban fiction… in the style of a “Jim Butcher” or a “Larry Coreia” or a “Joe Hill”. It’s on my bucket list anyway.
What drives you on?
Artistically I am driven by the vision of what I want to create… sometimes that vision is from a song and it’s trying to capture a feeling… a moment or an idea. I always feel I arrive short of the mark and I strive harder the next time. Sometimes I get something totally different from what I start out shooting for… kind of happy surprises… but they don’t satisfy like getting close to the goal.
Monetarily I want to do good work. I want to make people happy and enjoy there experiences with me… as I’m in retail and I own my own business. And I’m driven by making money to one extent or another. That may come across a little shallow but it’s not meant to be.
What is the greatest achievement of my life so far?
Being a father.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
For the most part I don’t find people irritating… I like most people. I hate racism (but who doesn’t). I am not a fan of the wilfully stupid… but they can be funny. And people who are angry all the time just plane suck. But I always try to put myself in someone else’s situation and not let my buttons get pushed. The only person you can control in this world is you. And if your buttons get pushed all the time… well they make pills for that.
If your twenty year old self could see you now, what would he think?
The first thing is probably “well the diet didn’t take”
The second would be “I thought you would have an electric car”
But life knocks you around a bit from 20 to present and we learn more from pain. I wish I could tell 20 year old me somethings but he probably wouldn’t listen. Lord knows I wouldn’t listen to 20 year old me.
What object that you lost do you wish you still had?
I was an avid comic collector till 1989… I sold my collection to have money to rent a tux. It wasn’t worth it.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Ignorance and apathy. When you can’t trust the people that are influencing you; be it Facebook, the news, the president, religion, or the Russians (well could we ever trust them) how do you know anything anymore. To quote Phil Collins “we live in a land of confusion”
Do you outlaw guns in hopes that criminals won’t use guns.
There are people who believe global warming is good for the environment… and they believe this because they are told this. I saw a pole on Instagram the other day that asked if Epstein committed suicide or was murdered 88% said murder… that was people on both side of party lines. We live in a world in which we don’t know who to trust anymore and to be honest I don’t know if we ever did.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
I want to… but I would also like to be a millionaire. The real answer is I don’t know. I have never believed in hell because I could not see someone being punished for all eternity in cruel sadistic ways. No matter what they did on earth be they a child killer or happened to eat meat on the wrong day of the week. In no way is Hell moral. In the same way I would think if heaven were all that important we would know more about it. I think the real solution is to treat other people the way you would like to be treated (Buddha said that or at least that’s what I read on Facebook) and don’t sell your X-men #94.
If you had to rate your life satisfaction so far, out of ten, what would it be?
A solid 8 but with some give and take. A lot more left to do before I die…
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