Above: (Video) Makers Who Inspire - Ellie Kammer by Henry Thong of Those Creatives
(Image) Endometriosis (Conjunction) 2018
Oil on panel 64 x 54cm
Ellie Kammer was born in 1991 in Adelaide, Australia.
In 2013, Kammer studied oil painting under Robin Eley and life drawing under David Kassan through Eley’s school, The Art Academy. Noting Kammer's passion and technical ability, Eley offered her a year long mentorship at the conclusion of the Art Academy Workshop. Eley trained Kammer in oil painting technique for one year.
Upon discovering the controversial and brilliant works of Gottfried Helnwein, Kammer became enlightened to the sheer power a single image can carry. Most arresting was his instillation ‘Selektion - Ninth November Night’, which featured large portraits of pale, innocent children. The large portraits were displayed in a considered line for public viewing in a country that had witnessed one of the most inhumane cases of genocide - The Haulocaust. Helnwein's children eerily resembled those that were forced to wait in line for sorting or 'Selektion' in concentration camps. This instillation had a profound impact on Kammer and once seen, she adopted the view that an artist has a responsibility to address and discuss issues within their work.
Kammer spent near four months traveling fourteen countries in 2014, with a mission to attend every gallery possible and study works by her favourite masters like Sorolla, Goya, Bouguereau, Caravaggio, Rubens and some modern and contemporary artists like Bacon, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. Viewing such a diverse collection of techniques was invaluable to Kammer's understanding of paint application and she also became more established in her own reasoning for needing to create art.
At the pointy end of her travels, Kammer experienced some difficulties with her health which continued to worsen for some months. In 2015, Kammer was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease that she regularly requires surgical treatment for - Endometriosis. The disease’s impact on the artist is significant and the immune system component saw Kammer nearly lose her life to a blood infection in early 2017. Kammer was also diagnosed with a similar chronic pain condition, Adenomyosis, which can only be cured by removal of the uterus, forcing her to consider the difficult notion of sacrificing her fertility for an improved quality of life.
Kammer’s frustration with endometriosis took toll on her mental health in 2016. With the condition being under-researched, rarely discussed and difficult to learn about due to limited reliable resources, Kammer came to know the feeling of isolation like she never had before. Slipping into a dangerous slump of depression and at the realisation that she could no longer find motivation for carrying on, Kammer's relationships began do break down and her condition worsened. At the lowest point, Kammer acknowledged that she was at a crossroad. There seemed only two clear options; give up on life and let the disease swallow her whole, or utilise her artistic abilities, channel the pain and create work that can give relief to the artist and comfort to other sufferers. She opted for the latter and began to compose her own ‘Ninth November Night’.
Taking inspiration from the techniques of Freud and Saville, Kammer created a series of ten paintings during 2016 and 2017 and exhibited them in her first solo exhibition of paintings, which she titled ‘Nescience’ for the general ignorance that surrounds the disease. During the making of Nescience, Kammer was rushed to emergency a number of times, contracted Sepsis, had a major operation and was diagnosed with her second reproductive disease. Two days after her stay in hospital in a life threatening condition, Kammer was back in her studio and accredits art-making to accelerating her recovery. The exhibition was opened by Robin Eley and garnered widespread attention and discussion within national and international media, which saw Kammer take on the title of 'Endo Champion' for the Non-Profit organization, Endometriosis Australia. The title allows Kammer to act as an ambassador for Endometriosis awareness as well as enabling access to verified information on the disease and the latest updates in research, which empowers Kammer and shapes her work.
In 2018, Kammer released her second series of Endometriosis themed works at Studio Bowden, Adelaide, in a solo exhibition she titled ‘The Host’. This body of work consisted of eight new paintings and a video installation. ‘The Host’, opened by Logan Macdonald (Adelaide City Art Planner), was a discussion about the expansive impact chronic disease can have on its host and how the devastation is not limited to the physical, but overflows into every aspect of the host’s life.
Kammer has been fortunate enough to collaborate with celebrities like Lena Dunham and Caitlin Stasey and has landed herself in a selection of Australian art prizes. In 2017, Kammer won the Myself Prize and took out the People’s Choice Award in the Emma Hack Art Prize in 2018 as well as the South Australian Living Arts Festival Awards.
In July 2018, Ellie was the recipient of the Arts SA Richard Llewelyn Deaf and Disability Arts Grant for her project ‘Art Prizes’ to assist her in focusing attention creating entries for the major art prizes. Kammer has been selected as a finalist in the Shirley Hannan Portrait Award as a result and will travel to Melbourne to take Stanislava Pinchuk AKA MISO’s portrait for the 2019 Archibald Prize.
Kammer currently lives and works in Adelaide. She is a marketing manager for a company in Adelaide part time and dedicates at least seventy hours per week to painting and making. Kammer is now working on prize entries and her next body of work, which will include paintings, drawings, video installation and sculpture with a view to hold a solo exhibition in 2019/20. In this body of work, Kammer will discuss the shift in dynamics that occurred in her relationship with her twin sister after Ellie’s diagnosis, and the reconnection that was sparked by her sister's unfortunate presentation of symptoms of Endometriosis some time later.
Kammer's work, while it currently has a focus on women's health, deals with much bigger, systemic issues like gender equality, ableism, feminism and human rights. For these reasons, Kammer has evolved into somewhat of an activist and feminist artist and has taken on the role of a public figure who advocates for awareness in all of these important issues. Future works by Kammer can promise dialogue, ideas, collaborations, controversy, dignity and sincerity.
Latest News —
Arts SA Richard Llewellyn Deaf and Disability Arts Grant
Kammer is the recipient of the Richard Llewellyn Deaf and Disability Arts Grant for her project ‘Art Prizes’. The project will see Kammer spend six months focussing her attentions on creating and submitting works for Australia’s most prestigious art prizes in 2018-2019
Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award
Kammer has been selected as one of the 34 finalists in the Shirley Hannan National Portrait award - A biannual $50,000 portrait prize. Winner announcement -October 26
SALA Bluethumb Award
Kammer has won the $3000 SALA People's Choice Award hosted by Bluethumb for her entry 'Endometriosis (Volatility)'.
The Host Opening Reception
The Host - A solo exhibition by Ellie Kammer officially opens August 16, 6-8pm at Studio Bowden, Bowden SA. Opened by Logan MacDonald and sponsored by Delinquente Wine Co.
Redland Art Awards
Kammer's portrait of Lena Dunham, 'Property of Lena' has been selected as a finalist in the Redland Art Awards.
Ellie Kammer in Conversation
Join Ellie Kammer and renowned fine art photographer Mark Kimber at The Host where they will discuss Kammer's recent body of work, her approach to a fine art career and her health. August 25, 11am, Studio Bowden, Bowden SA
The first time I saw Ellie Kammer’s Endometriosis (Volatility) I felt a physical jolt of recognition. A body appears weary, blood seeping from wounds unseen. Here was a portrait not of a person but of an illness. Here was endometriosis. Here, therefore, was me.
A life lived with endometriosis is a life spent fighting for help. While the disease affects roughly one in ten women, it is still drastically under-researched, underfunded and misunderstood. There is no known cause, there is no cure. Treatments are invasive, expensive, and only ever stop-gaps.
Kammer has regularly used her own body to tell the story of endometriosis on canvas. In this new exhibition she goes one step further, creating a private viewing room to watch laparoscopic vision from one of her own surgeries.
The film acts as a parallel to Kammer’s more traditionally created works hanging nearby. The subjects on canvas, becoming more and more segregated and bloodied, speak of physical devastation. But these smaller works also address the psychological effects of the illness. The disease, actively invading and smothering its host both mentally and physically, cruelly projects a contradictory appearance of being well.
Kammer lists Gottfried Helnwein as a strong influence on her practice, particularly his 1988 installation Selektion - Neunter November Nacht. The 100-metre wall of portraits is an unflinching reminder of Reichskristallnacht (Crystal Night), and an examination of the attitude behind the roots of the Holocaust.
The effect of this work on Kammer is clear: a dogged ambition to bring acts of repression out into the public eye. Kammer’s works, also often large in scale, act as evidence not only of endometriosis itself but of discrimination against women more broadly – depicting our loss of agency and autonomy, in both sickness and in health.
Kammer’s exploration of endometriosis is evocative and political, and never more so than in The Host. The blood – circling through our bodies, scarring organs and damaging nerves – stains our sheets and our psyche. We garner the strength to leave our beds to seek help, but as our symptoms and pain are dismissed and ignored, the blood continues to follow us everywhere.
The Host, 2018
Ellie Kammer's Endometriosis (Imponderable) depicts a woman in repose. She lies on her back, legs bent and angled to the left, bathed in golden light. Only the barest sliver of her profile is visible. In lieu of regarding her face, our eye is drawn to the landscape of her body: the dark shadow that falls from thigh to pudendum, the delicate tufts of pubic hair, the organic swell of her breasts. It could be a peaceful image — were it not for the erratic rivulets of blood that mark her stomach and thighs. This painting, and all the paintings in NESCIENCE, can be understood as a provocation: they externalise the inner suffering of women, bringing to light a disease that, although rarely spoken about, effects one
in ten women.
Kammer peoples her work with poignant bodies rather than model ones: fleshy and blunt, with breasts, bellies and thighs that have a palpable weight. Subtly visible beneath the skin are bluish rivers of veins. These bodies are imperfect. Vulnerable. In them, we see Kammer's devotion to recording in unflinching detail the experience of endometriosis. These paintings are pain, made flesh.
Kammer paints in an almost sculptural way, manipulating the oils in short, dabbed marks or intuitive, arabesque curves. The vocabulary of her palette catches the light: butter-cream, rose madder, sienna, salmon red, the odd insinuating purple. Even her blues are light-filled. In each portrait, the eye is drawn to the blood. Rendered in viscous dabs and smears, the use of startling red and thick, soupy blacks serve as a reminder of the harsh reality of her disease.
At the heart of the exhibition are two self-portraits, resonant with troubling beauty. In both paintings, Kammer turns her face away from the viewer; in both paintings her eyes are closed. She paints herself not nude in the classical sense, but naked: exposed, vulnerable. Observe the thickly applied, suggestively broken paintwork, the intimately unfinished finish — this is self-preservation through expression. 'Distorted perspective', wrote photographer Grete Stern, 'will always give the effect of insecurity.' These portraits are both an expression of Kammer's insecurities and a gesture towards resolving them: the artist regards her own body, and perhaps, through the act of painting, arrives at a place of peace.