bemusing musings of a bewildered brush-wielder

curtis eller

Curtis Eller, 36″ x 20″, oil on linen

It is an outright conspiracy, I have decided to fill my studio with musicians as often as I possibly can.  While many artists will argue that it is possible to paint from photographs, I usually ask them “Why would you, when you can actually paint a person?”  Aesthetic and artistic reasons aside, I just would prefer to talk to somebody throughout the day.  Better yet, I’d prefer to have some musician in my studio, singing and playing a banjo as I paint.  It’s just great.

If I could describe his music, I’d be a music critic.  I can’t.  It is the banjo as I’ve never heard it, aware of bluegrass but playing ballads.  His lyrics were left me wondering if I was having my guts ripped out, or if he was being funny.

Curtis was born in Detroit.  His father was a bluegrass banjo player.  Curtis and his wife and child live in Queens.  He tours Europe a few times a year, for a few weeks.  The rest of the year, he does weekend tours of cities scattered throughout the States.  It’s pretty admirable that he is a professional banjo player in a city that can be difficult survival for those with doctor’s salaries.

So, how’d I meet Curtis?  Well, I’ll have to ramble on a bit, and I hope I don’t lose you.  Do you remember my blog a few months ago (Sept 5th) about my marble sculpting friend, Jason Arkles?  Well, Jason and Curtis were friends from way back when, and they have kept in touch over the years.  Jason mentioned to me that Curtis would be an excellent subject for a painting, and so I sent Curtis an email.

There seemed something too contrived about having Curtis pose still, because his wiry frame seemed to speak more when he sang.  He is the self described “New York’s angriest yodeling banjo player” and I thought that I should take advantage of this.  I worked really quickly on this painting, as it is a fairly big canvas.  His body is all contrasting angles- his eyebrows are at opposite angles to his beard, his shoulder contrast his hips, his banjo contrasts his feet… You couldn’t have a more interesting person to paint.  It’s fun to do a painting whose subject could be dated as mid nineteenth century, save for the fact that he is wearing converse sneakers.  These photos were taken after three hours work, and so the paint is applied very broadly.  At this stage, the role of my brush marks is to suggest broad planes, rather than describe detail.  I can’t wait to work on this painting again.

Visit Curtis’s website and listen to his music at


2 responses

  1. Thirty years ago, give or take a decade, I went to Lexington, KY. I was profoundly disappointed to see that the grass in the fields surrounding the city were not the slightest bit more bluish than the grass I knew from my family farm near Goshen, NY. On the other hand, I was thrilled to walk down the street and hear bluegrass music coming through the open door of a bar.

    December 11, 2009 at 6:16 am

  2. Hey George, keep track of Curtis’ performance dates- I think he has his gigs listed on his website. Next time he’s playing NYC, if you’re up for it, I’ll meet you there

    December 14, 2009 at 3:16 pm

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