it all back home
Gene Ellis' art is vast and varied -- from filmmaking and photography
in Hawaii to illustration and metal sculpting in the Pacific Northwest.
His influences are similarly diverse -- a Chippewa heritage, the
lighting techniques of Rembrandt, and the South Pacific -- all of
which have found their way into his life's work. The 64-year-old
Portland native, whose mother was a sculpter, began drawing at age
5. He lives in Vancouver, Wash.
Warrior Billy Bowleg," pencil.
The eyes have it
History and heritage frame Gene Ellis' artwork, while modern
technology helps him create it.
Gene began his artistic journey as a Navy photographer in the 1950s,
and in 1999 was adopted into the Cherokee tribe and given the name
The honor has influenced his work in a series of American Indian
portraits and metal sculptings in images of Chinook salmon, bear,
elk and other wildlife.
"My heritage is Chippewa," he said. "My maternal
grandmother was from Rockyboy Reservation in Montana and half Chippewa."
Gene's name in Cherokee is Waya Dikta of the Ani Waya of the Ani-yunwiya.
Translation: Wolf Eyes of the Wolf Clan of the Cherokee.
"I am very pleased about this," he said.
Photoshop and Fractal Painter.
Motion on the ocean
Gene's Navy photography tour began in 1954. In '56 he went into
motion pictures, where he was attached to the combat camera group
in the Pacific. After 10 years with the Navy, Gene set up camp in
"I worked for Technicolor Corp. for a year, then started my
own motion picture lab in Honolulu at KGMB-TV," he said. "I
spent the next nine years in Hawaii, doing everything from news
camera to salvage diving."
Film at eleven
In 1973 he came back to Portland for a job with KOIN-TV.
"I worked news again for a year, then went into commercial
production, doing commercials and documentary films," he said.
"In '81 I started developing a motion-control system for camera
and motion picture special effects. Three years later I sold the
prototype to Vinton Studios and went back to schlepping cameras."
Gene's film credits include: set-building on "Hawaii,"
a '60s Julie Andrews film; background filming for "Tora, Tora,
Tora"; 2nd Unit work on the pilot movie for the "Hawaii
5-0" TV series; courtroom artist and transportation captain
on HBO's Portland production of "Last Innocent Man" with
Ed Harris; and underwater cinematographer for pilot production of
the Woody Crocker film "Shallow End."
& Clark at Cathlapotle," Fractal Painter.
After another five years in production, Gene began the adventure
of making a living with his artwork -- storyboards for film and
video production, general illustration and screen-printing. From
1994-99 he worked as an artist and art director for a software company
in Vancouver, Wash., where he progressively taught himself computer
art programs and a 3-D computer animation program.
Gene has illustrated two books: a memorial book on the USS Missouri
and another on the USS Blueback, sold at OMSI, the Oregon Museum
of Science and Industry, in Portland.
"The Missouri book is doing very well," he said. "It's
in its second printing, with about 370 copies sold each month at
the ship. Not big time, but the publisher is happy and so am I.
"I also have a small line of note cards that several shops
are selling," he said. "Again, nothing big, but it all
counts, I guess."
in landscape," metal sculpture.
Last year, Gene's military aviation artwork, portraying WWI and
WWII aircraft, was on display at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver,
And he recently completed a 16-ft. mural in an old theatre in Ridgefield,
"Now I'm prepping for another mural and working with Ridgefield
High School art students to produce more murals for display in the
town," he said.
"I'm also in the process of doing a fairly large metal image
for a building in the St. John's area. It'll cover the front of
the building; the center piece is nearly eight feet tall."
When all is said and done
Gene recently stopped punching a time clock and started his
own company, Tai-Pan Productions. He likes being his own boss. His
metal sculpting is getting a good reception, and he plans to try
some bronze casting.
He uses Adobe Illustrator to set up files, then converts them to
CAD files for cutting mild steel with a two-axis plasma cutting
"Then I grind, polish and burn color patina into the metal
to create some very nice effects," he said.
"I also use the computer to scan pencil work, treat it abstractly,
then print it or send it to a publisher."
"It's a long way from the birth canal to the end point, and
fortunately I am still on the right side of the grass. I'm hoping
to get some of the things that I want to do, done in my lifetime."