b. 1987, USA

Janiva Ellis Biography

Drawing from art history and pop culture, Janiva Ellis creates figurative paintings that investigate dialogues surrounding race in visual culture. Ellis' work portrays disconcerting cartoon imagery that often highlights the racial discrimination and distress Black women experience.

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Janiva Ellis currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Early Years

Ellis was born in 1987 in Oakland, California. She moved to Hawaii when she was seven years old. Raised by her white mother, Ellis felt isolated as a young Black woman growing up in a community with a very small Black population.

At the age of ten, Ellis was introduced to Tammy Day. Day was the first Black woman Ellis really engaged with and she became Ellis' mentor throughout her childhood. Ellis spent time drawing, listening to music and watching films with Day. Day's mentoring influenced Ellis and encouraged her to pursue an interest in the arts.

In 2012, Ellis graduated from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. After graduation, Ellis lost motivation and became disillusioned with painting. She didn't paint again until winter 2016, when she began to navigate a solid painting practice and produce a depth of work.

Artistic Style and Artworks

Janiva Ellis' artistic style adopts the pictorial language of cartoons. Her figuration depicts Blackness amid abstract landscapes using oil on canvas. Ellis' painterly style is rich in texture. She often paints on paintings, building layers of paint to scrape and manipulate into new compositions. Ellis' colour palette is densely vivid and parallels the bright tones found in animations and pop culture.

Hunt Prey Eat (2017)

Ellis' paintings feature a recurring cast of cartoon characters including Daffy Duck. In Hunt Prey Eat (2017), Ellis explores how the character of a duck might interact with the human figure. The painting depicts a Black woman in a swimming pool surrounded by jarring details, including a sign reading 'Live Laugh Hunt!', splatters of blood and a distorted Daffy Duck whose eyes are stretched across the canvas.

By placing a duck in her painting, Ellis introduces a narrative of hunting into her work. Her compositional intrusions portray themes of violence and brutality against the innocent. Hunt Prey Eat recalls 15-year-old Dajerria Becton, a young black girl who was violently arrested and assaulted by a police officer at a pool party in Texas in 2015.

Ellis' placement of anthropomorphic caricatures alongside figurative portraits allows her to illustrate an accessible narrative that focuses on racialised experiences of Blackness in contemporary culture.

Awards and Accolades

In 2018, Janiva Ellis was awarded the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant and the Stanley Hollander Award.

Ellis' artwork is included in the collections of several prominent galleries including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Rubell Museum in Miami, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami and the Aïshti Foundation in Beirut.


Janiva Ellis has exhibited across the United States.

Select solo exhibitions include Rats, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2021); Tip Drill, 47 Canal, New York (2019); Park Ass Somebody, Arcadia Missa, London (2018); Lick Shot, 47 Canal, New York (2017).

Select group exhibitions include Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (2020); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019); Painting: Now and Forever, Part III, Greene Naftali Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (2018); Triennial: Songs for Sabotage, New Museum, New York (2018); Prick Up Your Ears, Karma International, Los Angeles (2017); Cabin Pressure, BBQLA, Los Angeles (2017); You Catch More Flies With Arsenic Than Honey, Club Pro, Los Angeles (2017).


Janiva Ellis is represented by 47 Canal in New York.

Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2022

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