Ellen Diamond remembers standing at her father’s knee, watching him create the portrait of a famous actor to promote a movie in newspapers. Art has always been a part of her life.
On Nov. 15, Diamond’s latest show opens at The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach. Titled “Changing Color: A 50 Year Retrospective,” it will include works from her 50-year career, many of which have never been shown in a gallery.
Her work evolves by decade, influenced by where she lived at the time or by places she traveled.
“I’ve sold a lot of pieces, but kept pieces that represent the decades,” she said, crediting her husband Jay, who she said always insisted that “if it goes on the wall, it stays.”
The paintings in her Sawgrass home are like a journey through her life.
“Blue is my color,” she said, which is reflected in her home’s décor. Many of her paintings feature cobalt, azure, cerulean and other shades of blue. In contrast, her paintings of European flower markets burst with every color on her palette.
Seascapes and joyful beachgoers on the shores of New York’s Hamptons were dominant subjects of hers in the 1970s. There is movement in the water and figures, but scant detail in the faces.
“I don’t paint faces because my father was such an amazing portrait artist,” Diamond said. “I leave it to you to decide who it is.”
She earned her degree at New York University, at a time when art schools focused on abstraction and concentrated on the works of Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol and their contemporaries. That influence shows up in the 1980s period, when she embraced “fracturing” to create shapes. Two paintings of Maine beach houses hanging side-by-side in the living room illustrate her interpretation of the fracturing technique.
“You see color, shape. You see line,” she said. “I sketch a scene or maybe watercolor, then interpret it to please myself.”
Patterning also caught Diamond’s attention in the ‘80s, resulting in a “Naomi and Ruth” from the Bible story. While the faces are left to the viewer’s imagination, the patterns in the clothing are colorful, intricate and intentional. The soft embrace of the hands expresses the relationship of the two women.
Diamond moved to the First Coast with her husband, Jay, in the ‘90s to be close to their daughter and grandchildren. They chose Ponte Vedra Beach because it’s close to the ocean.
“I’ve always lived with the smell of salt air,” she said. She also became enthralled with area bridges and began to paint them. Three are on display at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville. A painting of the Palm Valley Bridge hangs near the doorway to her kitchen. “I cried when that bridge came down,” she said.
In her upstairs studio flooded with natural light, Diamond has several works in progress, along with a finished work of ice skaters in Central Park. “That’s where we had our first date,” she said about her husband of more than 50 years, who passed away three years ago. “Every painting has meaning.”
She often keeps the first in a series and sells subsequent works.
Sorting through the body of work still in her possession, Diamond reflected on long-shelved recollections from her early days of painting, all the way back to high school.
“My father thought I was great,” she said. “But I didn’t believe him.”
She didn’t trust he would tell her the truth about her work ― whether it was really good or not, but, “A teacher in high school encouraged me,” she said, “and that’s why I went to art school.”
Diamond is also passionate about teaching. She has guided painting tours to France and other locations. In New York, she taught young artists how to prepare portfolios for college. Since moving to Florida, she limits students to adults only.
“I am proud of the people who love to paint with me,” she said of her students at the Cultural Center. Many regulars have taken her classes for 20 years.