My friends and family are constantly asking me, “hey, um, what’s up with Ellissa’s instagram stories.” On any given day, Ellissa makes videos licking dead bugs, picking things up with her toes, or checking out her own ass in the mirror. Though she post them herself, the videos seem voyeuristic, which is a commonality across Ellissa’s art. As a poet, bookmaker, printmaker, and painter, her work melds intimacy and humor. Enjoy this interview, in which Never Heard of Her’s Leslie Castromayor talks to my friend, Ellissa Jane, about broken arms, nudity, and (of course) bugs. Be sure to check out Ellissa’s website, tumblr, cargo collective, and instagram
Ellissa Jane: Artist Spotlight
“I was trying not to scrape my pants up because I was on my way to work…and I ended up breaking up a bone!”
Leslie: You feel warmed up? Are you ready?
Ellissa: Yeah! Let’s go! Am I expecting a MySpace Survey?
L: Well how was your shoot with Nora?
E: It was so much fun! I mean, I got my sling off . . . so . . .
L: Yeah what happened? She told me about that.
E: I broke my elbow and it was really embarrassing. I was skateboarding and I fell off my board.
L: That’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard.
E: (Laughing) I was trying not to scrape my pants up because I was on my way to work and I ended up breaking up a bone! So it was one or the other. Honestly, It was fine. It was just kind of like I didn’t feel like myself because a part of me was. . . unable. Because I’m right-handed, I just felt this new perspective of a disabled world. It also let me see who was willing to offer help. . . You can’t do a lot of things like, you can’t wash your hair or brush your teeth . . . a lot of intimate things. . . Doing the dishes. Things that are so overlooked. Wow, I feel so grateful that I have this physical ability. It was crazy because everything felt like a challenge. And, I kind of always took pride of being slightly ambidextrous, but this time it was like, let’s test this forreal!
L: Wow yeah, how was work? Did you still-
E: It was fine! It was actually kind of annoying cuz when I first broke it, my boss didn’t let me go to the hospital! I was texting him like, “This is an emergency!” And he’s like, “ugh, I just woke up from a nap!”
L: Yeah! Didn’t it just happen last week?
E: Yeah at this time last week, I was at the hospital. And it’s weird to think that I’ve already healed and all this time has passed. You know it just felt really surreal. I’m just glad that I didn’t need to get surgery and it’s totally fine.
L: What age did you recognize your own ability to create successful visual art?
E: I guess for me, when I was a little kid, my mom would take me – she was a single mom – she would take me to the college we lived right next to. And the college kid that was watching me worked in the art department. He would just take me to the art room, and I would just scribble everywhere, and they would be like, “Whoa look at her go!” That story I don’t quite remember, I wish I did. Instead, I guess I realized, [when I was young,] that I could get . . .lot of attention for something I created
L: That’s cool!
E: Yeah, I definitely was lucky because my mom could recognize [my potential] even though I was scribbling on the floor. She would always push art on me. It was always fun and still is. Even though it gets really frustrating I can do it whenever I want to.
L: A lot of your drawings – I like them because I feel like you’re just emoting on to the paper.
E: Yeah I usually start loosely; loosey goosey. Then when I see, “Hey, this is actually taking shape,” that’s when I can actually go for it. . . I think I start with the image then go with a story – if I choose to have a story. Other times, like when I write poetry, I write the poem in my iphone. I usually use voice-text. Sometimes the misinterpretation of Siri transcribing what I’m actually saying usually works with what I’m doing.
L: Misinterpretation as a theme – that’s interesting.
E: I’m really interested in language barriers. . . I want to continue my education in a more linguistic direction, versus art based. At first [my themes in poetry were] lost in translation. . . It kind of morphs, I was able to take “lost in translation” – especially when I went abroad last year – and refocus it to the loss of translation between relationships and sensual miscommunication – like how touch is a language of its own… Um, I forget where I was headed with this one.
L: No this is awesome keep going!
E: Ok. So [for example], different languages, then within the same language [between two people]. Now [the loss of translation] can be within myself and a technological device. All these different languages are really interesting. . . Also my Siri is Australian, so I like to talk to it in an Australian accent.
L: I love you using your phone to navigate your piece.
E: Yeah. I think that I do that with my paintings too. Sometimes I make my painting more abstract when I use oil. It’s kind of the same relationship. Ok, I see where this is going and I’m cooperating with it. If it just looks like shit, then I’m like fuck this and I’ll start over. So yeah, it’s the same relationship.
L: It sounds like your inspiration just sort of happens organically.
E: A lot of the time [I feel] inspiration when I’m walking. And my old roommate told me there is a correlation with walking or doing low impact exercise for long amounts of time that can aid in creative flow. Then I thought, that is kind of dumb because I walk everywhere. I realized, actually yeah, I’ll usually be walking home from work, and sometimes I’ll listen to music, but if my iPod dies, I’m like, “Well I guess I’ll just think!” The walking will churn things and make me think of memories – sensations I could feel with one person versus another. And this memory of a feeling that is totally removed because in the present when I’m walking or thinking I don’t know what that feels like.
(Elissa puts on chapstick}.
L: Oh I love that. Wait what kind of chapstick is that?
L: Oh that stuff is good! You need to keep your lips moist during this interview.
Have you ever taken the 5 Languages of Love Quiz?
L: A common theme in your art is relationships. What kind of relationships manifest in your art the most – romantic, platonic, familial etc?
E: You know what, I’m pretty sure it’s a regurgitation of all of them. I wrote a little comic about a sister- and there’s no words to it. It’s just illustrations and it’s very feminine. I don’t have a sister, but I lived with this girl, and she was like my best friend. It was about our relationship but in comic form. I don’t know – I take a lot of pride in saying that I have a lot of friends of all different backgrounds. I’ve had a lot of intense relationships and a lot of stupid pointless ones, but I’ve had them, and they do add to my art and add to me and me as a person.
L: This is really cute. And goes with what we’ve been talking about. Nora told me that she thinks of you as an especially thoughtful friend – that you express love through small, physical acts of kindness. Do you consider yourself to be a caretaker?
E: Oh yeah totally. Have you ever taken the 5 languages of love [quiz]?
L: No! Tell me!
E: Oh my gosh. Let me tell you. It’s, like, pretty accurate. It was my old roommate, she told me about the test. It’s online. It only takes about a minute. It’s kind of like the Meyers Briggs test, but it’s more [about] what you crave in a relationship. I think it’s kind of a religious thing but without [that] context it still makes sense. There’s 5 different languages. I think one of them is: physical touch, quality time, gift giving. Here wait let me look it up…
L: We’re all going to take this test after this interview.
E: YES! Ok hold on, here’s what they are: Words of affirmation -so like support and compliments,- acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. So for me, I prefer to have, physical touch, words of affirmation, and acts of service. And receiving gifts I could care less. But that’s just what I want. But what I give out is completely different. I think what I give is acts of service, words of affirmation and quality time. So I give differently. I think [it’s important to understand] what you crave and what you want is not always what you’re giving. It’s really helpful in dialogue between friends or family and trying to figure out if “I were in their situation this is what I would want, but I should be figuring out what they would prefer.” I can send you the link!
L: You have said before that you feel “privileged in sanity.” Will you expand upon this?
E: Yes. This goes way way back. One of my first boyfriends was mentally ill. I don’t want to blame him for anything, but it has influenced how I handle intimacy now.
L: So you must’ve been really young.
E: I was like 16 or 17, like ten years ago? So yes. He was the first person to introduce intimacy to me, but he did it in a way to question if it was ok. So that has always really stuck with me. I feel like with that person – who I didn’t understand was mentally ill – had effect on me as completely different as a person. So I can take a pause and realize No, what he did to me was not good for me especially as a young teenager. And I use him as an example of how I handle my personal relationships. I’ve experienced the worst of the worst. So basically I can handle anything!
She described it to me as “Flarf” and I’ve never been more insulted by a word before.
L: Soft is a word that I would use to describe your art – Nora and I both feel that way! Do you vibe with that?
E: Of course! I’m actually waiting for a book to be printed, and I was showing a little bit of it to Nora. She described it to me as “FLARF,” and I’ve never been more insulted by a word before. So I’m glad this time we’re using the word soft.
L: Flarf is what?! The combination of…
E: So Flarf is the regurgitation of public postings online that are repurposed for a literature-based setting. So I was mad that the word is flarf instead of something more elegant. So the piece is called “Soft Like Honey.” I’m glad it’s seen as soft and not something harsh. I definitely prefer things to be “fluffy” or “comforting”, and it’s back to what I find to be comfortable. I just think of like blankets, and like skin is soft.
L: I honestly would describe your art as “sensual.”
E: Yeah very sensual for sure! I get that. Venus is my ruler! Sometimes I do feel a little bit like, false, to obtain this ultra femme-like look. I do identify as ultra femme for the most part, but I just wish there wasn’t a gender specific identity/voice. I just feel bad that I’m a woman and I’m making “feminine” identified art.
L: But then, wouldn’t it feel false if you were trying to make it more “masculine.”
E: Exactly. Part of the “flarf” book – I hate that word so much! – is that it’s so not my style. It’s noisy and lots of masculine qualities, without being male or masculine. But very stereotypical masculine: bold, text heavy, just completely void from my spatial and quiet settings that I like putting my art in. I made the book so that I wouldn’t feel like all I do is make pretty little scribbles and write an emotional poems with it. It took me like five minutes to make – no that’s a lie it took an hour. It was just so quick because it was not personal; it wasn’t my style. I was totally removed from it. I was also super into it and the process.
L: So what inspired you to do this?
E: I wanted to take a break or something. I just started and thought it would be cool to make this collage into a book.
L: I do love your collages by the way.
E: Oh yeah. The book is all digital collages. It was necessary for me to do. I do plan on making more of these books the more I collect online. I’m totally inspired by YouTube comments.
E: They are so good. I think that was maybe my inspiration. Like, let me read some of these. Some people say some crazy things!
L: Did you use any of them in the book?
E: Yes! I have been collecting them and posting them on my Facebook to see people’s responses to them.
L: Do you just take them and post them without any context?
E: Oh yeah. Because it’s just like, some of the stuff they’re saying, you’re just asking, “WHAT?”
L: Is this flarf book something you are on working on now or is it done?
E: It’s done. I’m just waiting for it to be printed. I definitely think that just changing up my art style a bit is necessary. I do that in my [clothing] style too. At the restaurant I wear something really girly and at the bookstore [that I also work at] I’m just wearing really baggy stuff.
The average number of girls who have lost their virginity.
L: So I looked at some of your stuff on Cargo Collective. One thing that really spoke to me was your screen prints of the clementines, pecans, and oysters that are obviously representing vaginas.
E: That was a conceptual wallpaper.
L: Oh what? Omg have you tried turning it into wallpaper?! Cuz it should be.
E: It should be! I think so too! Again this was ultra femme. On pastels. The way I did it was in grids of like the average number of girls who have lost their virginity; that was the concept of it. Then I used a really soft, delicate rice paper to print a flood on. Then printed the clementines, pecans, and oysters. It’s one of my favorite prints. When I made prints [the importance] was more of the concept of them, than the images themselves. They weren’t prints that a consumer would get, so it was really awkward trying to sell them as a solo item. That is when I got into books. I could just put them together as one in one package. Printmaking was technically my major, but I strayed by making books, or comics…or flarf.
L: Are “flarf” poems, or books, or comics something you want to do more of?
E: I definitely think this is the path I need to be in. I do have urges to paint, or I have an idea and I need to paint it. When I was in painting classes in school, [I felt] like I would work on my piece, and I didn’t need a critique. It’s done. Why? I didn’t enjoy that. Basically with the books, it’s the best way I can express myself.
L: Did working at the book shop influence this path?
E: I think it’s all part of it. I work at the Biennial at the Cultural Center and it’s all architecture based. It’s kind of the abstract of architecture, where it can be applied to any art not just buildings. I think that’s what drew me to it. I thought, oh I can get down with that.
No one gives a shit
L: Nora and I both admire that you are comfortable in your own body. That’s not easy for a woman. Have you always been comfortable with nudity or was that a learned skill?
E: No. So when I was little like 7 years old, I gained a lot of weight. I got very heavy for a child. I don’t know if that was, in part, because of my parent’s divorce. I don’t know what I was doing. I believed I was a cat, so I was focusing on other things. I stayed that weight but kept growing. I was so self-conscious. I was the tallest girl in my class. I was the whitest girl in my class. I got made fun of for being so pale. I was always tall and pale and awkward. I was always a little bit “thicker.” And every now and again I have a mini-mental break where I feel gross and uncomfortable in my body, especially if I’m seeing a new partner. It is just a weird concept that is pushed down our throats. But it’s like, no one gives a shit. Part of what has helped me become comfortable, and borderline vain, with myself is having lots of guy friends and having them give me the voice of affirmation; or my other friends. Like you, you always talk about my collar bones and I never understood that to be part of beauty. So these positive comments from the opposite sex or my friends has helped. And I feel that I’m a good person, so who cares about anything else? Our bodies are temporary, so just love what you have. Don’t sit around thinking about it. I’m the most comfortable when I’m not thinking about my body and surrounded by people I love. It’s just kind of funny. Butts are hilarious. I’ve never taken a sexy nude. I like to keep my sexuality my covert.
L: Has modeling – especially your hand modeling, helped you in a way? (Note: Ellissa has previously model for Never Heard of Her)
E: Oh definitely. I never wear makeup. So when I’m all done up, and I look at the pictures, I’m like, “oh yeah, that’s me.” But it’s such a different sensation; Nora is directing me what to do, or when you, are adjusting my clothing. I’m always a little nervous when I do these shoots. But I have to remember that you guys, or whoever, asked me to be there because I would fit in the look of the piece.
I would put the dead bugs on my face, super zoomed in and people were so offended.
L: Let’s talk about your performance art! Do you post on Instagram stories or Snapchat?
E: Oh yes. It started on Snapchat actually. Back when Snapchat still was cool. Tthey had just come out with filters. I was just so entertained by what if I did those with this face or pose. I always thought my humor was off the path when I am by myself. It kind of opened this world of performance art. My routine was waking up – sometimes without any clothes – and I would look at my own face and my reaction to the filter on and realize people were basically in my bedroom with me watching me through the phone. The comments came through, saying that these are really funny and that I should keep doing these. When Instagram stories came out, I thought [that the feature] was stupid, and the [performances were] my commentary toward it. They are tongue and cheek; like you’re in the most private part of my life and you’re watching it. A lot of the time it’s my hands and feet, for example, picking up a pencil. And I would be doing that anyway if I was bored. And you’re watching it. It’s not like I’m at a club. I’m picking up pencils with my toes. It’s just this temporary recording of me doing mundane things.
L: What’s the thing with the bugs?
E: So I’m studying French. One of the phrases I had to learn was “The spider is an animal.” So I’m like, “Oh yes. The spider is an animal.” I’m connecting the spider back to the animal kingdom. So that summer my roommate moved out, and I was living by myself in this big house and my room is in an attic. I’m collecting these teeny tiny jumping spiders and random tiny bugs. I’d either let them go, or if it was dead, I would study it – all on Instagram stories. And everyone is commenting, “You’re being so weird with those bugs!” So I was like, “I’ll show you weird.” I would put the dead bugs on my face, super zoomed in. People were so offended! But I’m like, if you don’t want to see it don’t watch it.
L: But clearly people are still watching it!
E: I know! People still comment in saying like, “Omg this was so weird. I love it;” like this weird praise for documenting my boredom.
L: What was the more popular things you’ve done? Was it the feet?
E: Oh my gosh, I would say there was one where I was trying on clothes. This was the more personal ones I’ve done. I was trying on clothes that I had bought, from China. And I was using this big mirror documenting my annoyance with buying 10 things that were all shitty quality. The first video was me without a shirt wearing a skirt with a clown emoji. The second was me in a wrap dress, [that was made] without the hole to put the string through to wrap it. Then me saying, “with this purchase I support sweatshops;” like, “I fucked up.” It was from Zaful? Do you ever get ads for it? I was just being very open with what was wrong with these clothes and my purchases. And people were like “FIRE. You nailed it!” And I’m like, “what am I nailing? It’s just me at home trying on clothes?” So a lot of it is just me being sort of naked; sensual
L: With a little bit of humor. That’s you: sensual with a little bit of humor.
E: True! The humor that I like in my art is very tongue in cheek. It’s like sexy.
L: Speaking of clothes, do you have any style influences?
E: Oh. Uh I dunno. I just pick out what I like. My favorite outfit right now is I have white ankle boots that I wear. And I’m really into wearing blue eyeshadow again.
L: Ohh I really like that. That’s really 70’s: white boots and blue eyeshadow.
E: Yeah I feel it’s really 70’s. I really love style because I’m all over the place.
L: Which works when we’re doing shoots. You can pull it all off.
E: I know! You style me so well!
L: I STYLE YOU SO WELL!
E: I just love how you put outfits together.
L: Last thing, anything you have coming up? To let people know to check out?
E: Oh right now no. Just that book “Soft Like Honey.” Which will be available at Quimby’s. And my tumblr that I try to update every two weeks. And that’s it.
L: Awesome, you were awesome! Thank you so much!