Events, WAAS News

Vestiges of Light: A Profile of Ellen Soderquist

Nearing the end of her extensive exhibition, ShadowPlay, we look further into the woman who is showing that the nude figure is not just for art school and classical paintings.

By Sarah Milks
Photography by Andy Rolfes

Riddle:  I’m your follower in the light, yet I’m invisible in the night. At various sizes I appear. I won’t harm you, have no fear. Who am I?Answer: Shadow

On June 12th, WAAS Gallery was given the opportunity to exhibit Ellen Soderquist’s hand drawn masterpieces in her series, "Shadow Play". The series began in 2009 with a small graphite drawing titled, “Shadow Play: la, la, la.” In this group of drawings, the narrative voices in the works vary as the shadows speak to the figures and the figures speak to the shadows. Ellen’s mission in creating these works is to encourage the viewer to see parts of themselves as they scan and soak up the stories written in her pieces. She hopes that her work will help the audience form ideas about humanity and about themselves as they interpret the relationships found between the figures and their shadows.

The woman herself, Ellen Soderquist, speaking with a friend at the exhibition's reception.
The woman herself, Ellen Soderquist, speaking with a friend at the exhibition's reception.

Growing up in Texarkana, Ellen was first introduced to observation drawing in her kindergarten class by her teacher, Mrs. Lamb.  Mrs. Lamb would draw her students and Ellen was rarely drawn because she was usually standing right next to the teacher, soaking up her technique. She spent two years with Mrs. Lamb and the love for drawing had been sparked in little Ellen’s heart, catapulting her into a lifetime of learning and growing in the art realm.

In 1963, Ellen took her first life drawing class at SMU and made sure that she was in a life drawing class every semester after. She loves the human form and feels that it should be celebrated rather than hidden. She was so interested in studying the human body that she went on to teach figure drawing at Brookhaven College for 16 years. Ellen Soderquist is a highly esteemed artist and instructor here in Dallas and her reputation precedes her.

The thing that stood out to us the most here at WAAS was how many friends, past students, models and family members came to support Ellen on her opening night- it was a full house! While serving drinks and shaking hands, we heard tidbits of stories from all over the room as they shared their own “How we know Ellen” narrative. These people love Ellen! And now that we have gotten to know her, we know why. She is talented, yet

humble- an outstanding artist, a well-respected teacher, and a dear friend.

Ellen had not had a show since 2002 and thought that there was a chance that her career as an artist had come to an end, but when she started the first piece of the series in 2009, she was given a gust of inspiration and overtaken with new energy that assisted her in the completion of the masterpieces that now make up, Shadow Play.

Each piece in ShadowPlay tells a story and many of Ellen’s pieces reference a fairy tale, a dream that she has had, or a theme found in Greek mythology.  Ellen also likes to share the inspiration behind her pieces so that the viewer can understand her personal work better, as well as having a greater understanding of art history. Almost unanimously at the gallery, our favorite pieces tell the story of passion expressed between Apollo and Daphne in ancient Greco-Roman mythology. Apollo is shot with an arrow that causes him to passionately desire Daphne and his yearning is expressed in Ellen’s piece, through the depiction of his shadow. Unfortunately, Daphne is shot with another arrow that causes her to loathe Apollo. In Ellen’s piece, Daphne is running from Apollo and her shadow begins to sprout twigs and leaves. Right before Apollo was able to overtake Daphne with his burning desire for her, branches sprouted from her arms and roots grew from her feet, firmly planting her into the ground as a laurel tree.

Ellen Soderquist is a delight to work with and her artwork speaks for itself. We have been honored to walk alongside her through this part of her journey and can’t wait to see what she does next.

Here's a selection of photos from the exhibition's reception. The closing reception for ShadowPlay is June 12 from 12:00 to 5:00 P.M. at the WAAS Gallery.