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Born and raised in Gloucester, England, Ella Spira is a global nomad, spending her time between London, New York, Singapore and Australia, amongst other countries. Together with her long-time business partner, former Royal Ballet dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman, she founded Sisters Grimm, a live performance company which has produced award-winning shows for over 10 years. In the 2021 New Year’s Honours List, Ella and Pietra were awarded MBEs for services to International Trade and the Creative Industry.
Having left school at 17 without undergoing any formal artistic training, Ella draws on her own experiences of travel and collaboration with other artists to create. Her most recent body of work, the Global Landscape Series, is a group of paintings inspired by a variety of rural, urban and industrial environments in the UAE, Dubai and Singapore. Painted with fluid brushstrokes, expressive spatters and sometimes rain-water marks, Ella’s paintings celebrate our relationship with nature on an intimate scale.
“The series seeks to capture and share global landscapes and the human interventions within it,” explains Ella, “as such, it represents a form of preservation of our environment.” Ella captures Singapore’s ports, parks, swimming pools and sky-scrapers with great spontaneity and sensitivity. Rather than working from photographs or sketches in the studio, Ella works within the landscape itself – on a boat during a storm or in a sky-garden on the 38th floor. In doing so, Ella explores and updates the Impressionist method of plein air painting, and speaks to a centuries-long history of industrialisation and pollution that have led to today’s climate crisis.
Unlike traditional Western landscape paintings that map out a landscape for us to survey and potentially exploit, Ella’s work evokes a relationship between the human body and a specific place at a specific point in time. Her paintings often have a meditative mood and convey forms of ecological precarity. In Singapore, Ella links the city’s signature architectural features, such as the its luxury high-rises, to its bustling industrial port that provided the wealth to build them. Without becoming sentimental or pessimistic, Ella seeks to clarify through painting the connections between humans, economy, nature and architecture. “Our relationship with nature is both intimate and universal; it is one on which our lives and well-being depend,” the artist explains. “Today this is a real risk of losing sight of that connection.”
Ella collaborated with the Singapore-based photographer Rebecca Toh to document the process of creating the Singapore paintings. As is often the case with Ella, this encounter gave rise to a new collaboration, the Inner Landscapes of Ella, in which Rebecca created intimate portraits of Ella. Following in her footsteps, going about her morning routine, catching moments of self- absorption, without any filter or deflection.
In early November 2022, Global Landscape Singapore and The Inner Landscapes of Ella was shown at Raffles Hotel’s Art Now Gallery. This multidisciplinary art exhibition brought together Ella’s paintings, Rebecca’s photography and a new music video featuring Ella’s latest musical score. Enjoy more of Ella’s work at ellaspiraart.com.