Home Artists Ellen Priest


Ellen Priest

United States

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Works by Ellen Priest

Ellen Priest is an American abstract artist who is inspired by music and most notably by jazz. She lives and works near Philadelphia.


Priest received her Master of Divinity from Yale University Divinity School in 1977 with a dual qualification in Christianity and the Visual Arts. As an artist, she is largely self-taught.


Ellen Priest's jazz-based abstractions balance directly on the border between painting and sculpture – vibrantly colored spatial illusions when reading from a distance and 3-D relief constructions of layered, collaged paper when seen up close.


Jazz has been her subject matter since 1990. Drawing is always central to her process, as well as standing on its own.
The artist's inspiration comes from surprisingly diverse sources:
• Life-long visual art influences include Cezanne's late watercolors, Matisse's color and compositional structure, and Abstract Expressionism, especially the paintings of Willem De Kooning and Joan Mitchell.
• The rhythmic and harmonic structures in jazz and related African and Latin American music.
• Her athletic pursuits, since her paintings are really about movement. Priest's favorite sports are "balance sports," where motion depends on weight and balance thrown off-centre, often in response to terrain, like skiing.

Notable distinctions

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation has twice awarded Priest major grants to support her innovation.

Relevant quote

In July 2010, art critic Victoria Donohoe wrote about Priest?s work in two Wilmington exhibitions for The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Priest deliberately blurs the boundary between painting and jazz in her Venezuelan Suite painted collages. These use form as a language of music... Seeing jazz as full of joy and energy, able to transform sadness, Priest uses it successfully here to create materialized movement in actual worlds of coloured space.”



Jazz Cubano: Color and Paper Constructions, Saint Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54 th Street, New York, New York. March 21 - May 3.


Ellen Priest , Delaware Division of the Arts Gallery , Wilmington, Delaware.


Jazz: Thinking Out Loud, Reaching for Song, Joint painting/jazz project with Berklee College of Music , Boston, Massachusetts. Residency: November 2010.

Improvising on Jazz: Ellen Priest’s Paintings on Collaged Paper, Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School , New Haven, Connecticut.


Jazz: Improvisations on the ‘ Venezuelan Suite,’ Delaware Division of the Arts Gallery , Wilmington, Delaware.


The Art and the Jazz,, Gail Pierson Gallery, Cape May, New J ersey.


Jazz Paintings on Paper: Improvisations on the ‘Venezuelan Suite, ’ The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania


The Jazz Series: Paintings on Paper , The Dupont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in conjunction with Carspe cken Scott Gallery Wilmington, Delaware.


Jazz: Paintings on Paper, The Alva Gallery, New London, Connecticut. Jazz: The Brubeck Series , Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. In conjunction with performance by Dave Brubeck and Singing City Choir.


The Jazz Series: Paintings on Paper , Mellon Arts Center, The Choate Sch ool, Wallingford, Connecticut.


The Jazz Series: Paintings on Paper, Gallery 10 Ltd. Washington D.C.


Soul Devils: Works on paper , J. Hoffman Gallery, Kent, Connecticut.


Soul Devils: Oils and Works on Paper , Berkeley Center, Yale Divinity School. Sponsored by Department of Religion and the Arts, Yale Divinity School.


Works on Paper , Mellon Arts Center, The Choate School, Wallingford, Connecticut.



"On another note: The intersection of Art", Yale Art School 


35 th Anniversary Exhibition, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, Delaware.


SPECTRUM: Contemporary Color Abstraction , Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE. Curated by Carina Evangelista.


Form and Color , The Alva Gallery, New London, Connecticut.

Artist's Choice 3 rd Street Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Chapter 7: Ellen Priest: Seeing the World” Camille Colatosti, To Be an Artist: Musicians, Visual Artists, Writers and Dancers Speak. © 2012 E. L. Kurdyla Publishing, LLC, Baltimore, Maryland. (Dr. Colatosti is Dean of Graduate Studies at Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts.)


Delaware Division of the Arts Established Artist Fellowship


Delaware Division of the Arts Opportunity Grant


Pollock - Krasner Foundation Grant


Pollock - Krasner Foundation Grant