Pioneers arrive in many ways. Brantley Ellzey arrived by bike.
Quickly outgrowing his home studio in the Evergreen District, Ellzey, a former architect turned artist, took off on bike one day to explore the mostly empty storefronts that dotted Cleveland Avenue. He was in search of a new studio space.
“The only thing here was a beauty shop and the flea market,” remembers Ellzey. “I saw a faded ‘For Lease’ sign in a window and called the number immediately.”
He says the overall impression he got was that the spaces were essentially “unleaseable.” Knowing that he didn’t need a perfectly finished space— just a space to craft— he pestered leasing agents over and over again until they agreed to let him move in in December of 2010. After some cleaning and repainting, he’d found his new artistic home— and in the process, Ellzey unwittingly became the first resident artist in the Crosstown commercial core.
“I remember I had a grand opening party and everyone from the beauty shop came,” says Ellzey. “So I think there was always that sense of community in the neighborhood and curiosity about what was going on.”
More than five years later, Brantley Ellzey’s studio still sits quietly at the far south end of the former “Shoppes at Crosstown,” belying his daily residency and massive trove of work hiding behind the silver blinds in his windows. Pull the blinds and you see an unexpectedly kinetic space: equal parts studio, personal gallery, and— for lack of a better term— factory.
The space is filled with enormous tables and boxes that contain thousands of colorful, multi-patterned tubes of paper, each rolled and glued by hand by Ellzey personally. These are the bones of Ellzey’s work— they form the beautiful and varied structures that line his walls— and the process of creating them transforms his space from studio to solitary sweatshop. He explains that, although tedious at times to construct, the meaning encased in these rolls is what makes his art personal to his commissioned clients and to himself.
“I’m able to transform any kind of printed media into art. So whether I’m using collateral material from a law firm or a hospital, or even relics from a marriage to celebrate an anniversary, there’s a real feeling of investment when my clients provide their own materials,” says Ellzey. “For me, part of the rolling process is encasing these materials in the rolls. So my pieces not only work as a visual, but also contain within it all this information which, most of the time, reflects the theme, time, and place of the piece.”
Ellzey is slated to have his first Crosstown show this October at Crosstown Arts. For this milestone, he says he’s taking a departure from his usual work by stripping it down to the bare essentials.
“I won’t be using any found media, only colored paper,” explains Ellzey. “It’s really going to be just about the basics of rolling, color, texture, form, and how these rolls are manipulated.”
When asked why he picked his Crosstown Arts debut to go back to basics, he frankly discusses his predilection towards pessimism when it comes to local developments or politics, but that the revitalization of Crosstown is an exception to him.
“I value the neighborhood and I’m ecstatic about Concourse happening. I see it as really refreshing the neighborhood,” he says. “Working with color and knowing that it’s going to be part of this celebration of the new makes me feel very optimistic and happy.”