Tête à tête with David Elliott

Nicolas Grenier

Nicolas Grenier, David Elliott, and Daisy, the family dog, in Elliott's Montréal studio, 2022. Photo : Nicolas Grenier

In 2002, I went to the Saidye Bronfman Arts Centre to see David Elliott’s exhibition Instant Karma. As a twenty-year-old art student, I was too young to truly appreciate the title — that would come later — but the paintings, the paintings! They were huge, loud, and mysterious, but also friendly, and impossible to ignore. The next semester, I forced my way into David’s overbooked Painting and Pop Culture class at Concordia University. Just like his paintings, his teaching made you feel that you could grab the stuff the world is made of. Whatever subject or style you were into, photorealist portraits or doodles, video games or graffiti, love songs or phone books, it was okay, you could, and probably should, turn it into a painting. This kind of street-corner magic came as a revelation to generations of students. Twenty years later, it remains the central force in David’s work. During that time, I have been, in turn, his student, his studio assistant, his studio mate, and his colleague; I witnessed his transition from gigantic paintings — the making of which his body no longer allows — to intimate 3D collages in wooden boxes. In his recent exhibition at Galerie Nicolas Robert, Sweet Spot, twenty-five small to miniature-size recent works offered a striking demonstration of how emotionally powerful his intricate theatrics have become. The following interview has been edited from a conversation conducted by email and by phone. 

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