b. 1971, United States

Ellen Altfest Biography

Since leaving Yale School of Art Ellen Altfest has developed her own distinct and devoted approach to a figurative and representational painting. The writer and artist David Humphrey’s describes ‘her paintings celebrate the way objects become engulfed by their surroundings and simple acts of identification multiply and transform’.

Read More

Altfest always paints from life, drawn towards domestic plants, vegetables and more recently, male models. Altfest immerses herself in an intense analysis and personal engagement with the subject that pushes her vision beyond the real.

Compositionally the paintings are all tightly edited and framed, almost encroaching on the subject’s space whether it be the nucleus of tumbleweed through to the wrinkled skin of a cacti next to the neckline of the sitter. Altfest approaches her various subjects with a similar intent, spending hours of careful observation and study that results in images that although appear voyeuristic are portrayed with a deadpan humour and utmost vigilance towards her painting process.

Her first New York exhibition was titled ‘Rocks and Trees’ (2002) where the works were created outdoors, looking intensely at the variegated surfaces of bark and stone and how they contrast within their natural environment. For her next solo show ‘Still lives’ (2005) she began to bring nature, both living and decaying into her industrial studio space. In Two Logs, the wood depicted is both gnarly and lichen covered but lays camouflaged into the paint spattered wooden floor. While the Tumbleweed is pushed into the corner of the room and becomes , as David Humphrey suggests, ‘like all [of] her subjects… a brain, a world or animate being.’

In 2006 Altfest started the series of male nude studies with a candid portrayal of The Penis that almost topographically registers every hair, vein and skin tone as rigorously as the abstract paint- stained stool that the model sits on. In the Sleeping Man the creases or stretch of his skin almost mimics the leather couch that he reclines on. With this heightened sense of realism or myopic vision of all her subjects, Altfest animates everything she observes oscillating between desire and detachment. In her most recent paintings, Rock, foot, plant and Head and Plant there is an uncanny interplay between still life and life-model so the identity of the sitter is obscured by an object and the body parts become further displaced. As Altfest explains ‘The paintings of men seem to have an inverse relationship to still life, with the men becoming less like human subjects and more like still life objects.’

Ellen Altfest received an MFA from Yale University. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2002) and was awarded a studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe art foundation (2004-5). In 2004 she was a resident at the Dorland Mountain Art Center in the foothills of Temecula, CA. She now lives and works in New York City. Since her solo exhibition at White Cube in 2007 she has completed a residency and solo exhibition at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas (2010). In 2012 she will participate in group exhibitions ‘It Is What It Is, Or Is It?’ at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and The National Academy Museum's Annual Exhibition, New York. Other exhibitions include ‘USA Today’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London and ‘Men’, a group exhibition she curated at I-20 Gallery in New York, in 2006.

Text courtesy White Cube.

Ellen Altfest
featured artworks

Green Gourd by Ellen Altfest contemporary artwork painting
Ellen Altfest Green Gourd, 2007 18-colour woodblock print on Japan MM7 Kozo paper
42.4 x 43.4 cm
White Cube Contact Gallery

Represented by this
Ocula Member Gallery

White Cube contemporary art gallery in Bermondsey, London, United Kingdom
White Cube Hong Kong, London, New York, Seoul, Paris +2
Learn more about the market for works
by Ellen Altfest.
Enquire for a confidential discussion. Enquire Now
Simon Fisher, Ocula CEO
Ocula Advisor
Simon Fisher
Christoper Taylor, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Christopher Taylor
Eva Fuchs, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Eva Fuchs
Rory Mitchell, Ocula Advisor
Ocula Advisor
Rory Mitchell
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Follow Ellen Altfest
Stay ahead.
Receive updates on new artworks,
exhibitions and articles.
Your personal data is held in accordance with our privacy policy.
Do you have an Ocula account?
Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
Get Access
Join Ocula to request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Do you have an Ocula account? Login
What best describes your interest in art?

Subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming exhibitions, available works, events and more.
By clicking Sign Up or Continue with Facebook or Google, you agree to Ocula's Terms & Conditions. Your personal data is held in accordance with our Privacy Policy.
Thank you for joining us. Just one more thing...
Soon you will receive an email asking you to complete registration. If you do not receive it then you can check and edit the email address you entered.
Thank you for joining us.
You can now request price and availability of artworks, exhibition price lists and build a collection of favourite artists, galleries and artworks.
Welcome back to Ocula
Enter your email address and password below to login.
Reset Password
Enter your email address to receive a password reset link.
Reset Link Sent
We have sent you an email containing a link to reset your password. Simply click the link and enter your new password to complete this process.