His sculptures, combining assemblages of found and salvaged objects with more traditional techniques such as bronze casting, are frequently animated by electric motors and ingeniously low-tech mechanisms and might thus be seen much more as 'contraptions' than traditionally static and unified sculptural objects. Also working with photography and through drawing, in more recent work Ellis has increasingly used film as a means to explore his longstanding interests in everyday experience, nostalgic popular culture and the overlapping of serious thought and vulgarity.
Combining sophisticated wit with slapstick obviousness and throwaway one-liners, and utilising an aesthetic that combines thoughtful and philosophical ideas with the eccentricity of the amateur inventor, Ellis's art frequently lures the viewer into a trap. We are surprised by inanimate objects brought to life, confounded by the dumb made epic and the epic made dumb, and unsettled by the seriousness with which humour is taken or the ways in which high-minded scholarship or tragic solemnity can be punctured by a banal joke.
Although rarely declared or made specific, Ellis's practice is resonant with autobiographical references, and both his northern working-class roots and the profound influence of art school in the 70s suffuse his work. Ellis trained at Manchester, Wolverhampton and at Chelsea School of Art where he was taught by Eduardo Paolozzi, whose influence was clearly important. In his use of everyday materials and salvaged or scavenged objects, Ellis's work relates to Arte Povera of the 1960s and 70s, and in its linguistic dimension to Conceptualism of the same period. Its most significant roots go historically deeper, however, back to Dada and Surrealism. Whilst the original influences are clear, Ellis's take on them is significantly informed by the particularly English approach to Surrealism of his friends Les Coleman and Anthony Earnshaw.
Earnshaw and Coleman, together with Patrick Hughes (surely another influence, and like Ellis, a fan of ornery critters in ten gallon hats as an aficionado of the cowboy films experienced on black+white TV by 1950s British schoolboys!) are all inextricably connected with Leeds, and serve as a reminder of the city's importance in Ellis's world. Although a fiercely proud Mancunian, he has had an impact on generations of students here, having taught fine art at Leeds Poly/Metropolitan University/Beckett University for nearly thirty years. &Model is pleased to present this solo retrospective of Pete Ellis's highly engaging work to celebrate this contribution and his retirement from teaching in the summer of 2017.