Interview with Lee Ellis

Every moment in our life is a small piece to a larger puzzle. I attempt to give same feeling of connecting the pieces within my work.

Born: Cleveland, Ohio
Now: Avignon, France
@nairblee |


Lee, tell us about the life stage when you got into art and were a chalk muralist.

I see this point in my life as a key turning point. I had just gotten back from attending college in Chicago for dance. Unfortunately I came back from a knee injury and had no finances at the time. I started to teach dance classes and would work at the pool of a country club during the summers. I had discovered some left over side walk chalk and begin to create small murals for the members to enjoy at the pool. I consider this a turning point because up until then my life goals and dreams had revolved around creating a career in dance. I had made it to my dream school but, was only able to stay for one semester.

Coming back home with the injury really felt like a step back in my life but discovering how good I felt expressing myself through my chalk art was a ray of hope. I emailed every outdoor event I could fine within northeast Ohio and began to create a consistent client base for my work. From jazz festivals to farmers markets if it was outside and there was pavement you would receive an email from me.

What was the transition from public art to indoor work like? It’s an entirely different culture, a different style…

The transition wasn’t so bad, growing up I would always sketch and draw so returning to that felt more like a gentle welcome. With public art you are constantly being watched and for me I was the type of artist that wouldn’t always come with a plan when approaching murals. I would have an idea and try to create what was in my head during the event and this worked about as well as it sounds. Sometimes it was amazing and I’d blow the client and my self away, other times it was underwhelming and I never got a call back from that client.

I enjoy the tension that comes with public art however, I’ve found that my work exponentially got better in my own space. At times you need to interact with the public, answer questions from passersby or let a child help you add color to a piece. This transition helped me to look inside myself and ask “what would I like to make” instead of always focus on creating a clients vision. It feels nice to have an art practice that feels so personal its really a blessing.

I like your style and brevity- it’s very original! How did you come to this?

To be honest I’ve never heard my work described as “brief”, however I’m glad that my style and usage of materials allows them to be more easily digested. Post-it notes have always been something I used to sketch, from working at a welcome desk to selling life insurance. They take me back to a time where I would just draw to draw, and they also are perfect for expressing the overall ethos of my work. We all know how expendable Post-it notes are. They are meant to grab our attention with their bright and vibrant colors, but after they have severed their purpose they are discarded.

The Post-it notes allow me to take hundreds of different “attention grabbers” together and express an over arching message.

The commonalty of the material allows the viewer to become drawn in from a sense of relatability. I’m not sure if this style will continue in my art career but, at this moment it feels like the best way to express what I want.

Most black Kings create a legacy, Postitnotes, 96x96cm, 2022

Tell us what inspires and makes you create new works?

With my current body of work I’ve come to understand how much my work is inspired by events that happen in my life or the world around me. I’ve found that I’m the type of person that really enjoys the smallest moments in life. Things that others think are insignificant or a waste of time, these things give me a sense of pause. I could sit in the grass and just look at an ant build its home, honestly I could stare at the same-thing for hours. It makes me feel so small and allows me to appreciate how blessed I am to be alive. It’s a bit hard to explain how much I enjoying very small and mundane things, but they give me a certain of energy that I can take back and put in my work type.

You started to participate in exhibitions quite active, do people in France like your style of work?

Unfortunately I haven’t had my work in any shows in France yet however, I have been accepted to a fellowship and residences here so I guess that means my work interest some. In France it feels that people take more time to pause than in the US and for me that gives me hope that my work will be able to catch the eye of the right people and grow in popularity. I’m optimistic that with each new project, exhibition, and article is one step closer to create the type of career I want. Its nice to tell people that I’m an artist and not have their face overwhelmed with concern but, rather with intriguing interest.

What is it like to be an artist in the USA and France?

It feels like being part of a collective body or artisans. In France I feel that there’s so much more attention put into detail and people really appreciate that. From florists to cheesemongers the French have so many artisans. Coming from Northeast Ohio where I feel that it’s a dying profession. Convenience is more important than quality to most and it’s not the same in France. Instead of feeling like a strange outlier I feel that I’ve become part of a continually moving ecosystem that produces and searches for new things.

Give some advice to aspiring artists that just looking for themselves.

Wow, this feels very surreal because I constantly feel like I’m still learning and looking for advice. I’ll say two things, you never know enough. No matter how much you’ve studied or worked there is always something more you can learn and how you learn it has no particular face, gender, or race, you can learn something from anyone.

Lastly never be afraid to try, a small phrase that always comes in my head is “why not me?” Every great artist started from where you are right now, with an idea and a dream.

You don’t need a special education or certain materials to start. If you never try there will always be the question of “what if?” And I promise that question will haunt you longer than trying and failing ever will. So, why not you?

Personne, Postitnotes, 100x100cm
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