Ellen Lesperance

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Ellen Lesperance (born 1971) is an artist based in Portland, Oregon.

Biography and work[edit]

Lesperance was born in Minneapolis and raised in Seattle. She creates art in various media but often employs the visual language of knitting, having once worked for Vogue Knitting as a pattern knitter.[1] Citing inspiration from Bauhaus-era female weavers, the Pattern and Decoration Movement, and body-based feminist artists of the 1970s and 1980s, Lesperance’s gouache paintings on paper can be followed as patterns to recreate historic knit garments.[2] She sources these historic garments from archival images and film footage of women involved in Direct Action protest, including women from: the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, Earth First!, Occupy events, feminist-era protest events, and the feminist art canon.[3]

She frequently displays her paintings with her hand-knit textiles, which she says she hopes will “beckon a new wearer.”[4] Through studying activists' visual strategies, Lesperance "recognized that Creative Direct Action provides a powerful model for politically-inclined artists... but unfortunately it is creative making that exists outside the purview of contemporary art."[5]

Additionally, Lesperance creates memorial paintings that she terms “death shrouds” for young women activists who have died while fighting for “causes greater than themselves,” including Rachel Corrie, Mia Zapata, Beth “Horehound” O’Brien,[6] Susana Chávez, Pippa Bacca, and Helen Thomas.[2] In 2012, Lesperance presented a solo show at Frieze Art Fair New York in which she displayed a suite of seven paintings made in the memory of slain Italian activist and artist Pippa Bacca.[7]

Lesperance has been represented by Ambach & Rice Gallery Los Angeles, Adams and Ollman Gallery, Portland, and she is included in many public collections, including the Brooklyn Museum,[8] the Museum of Arts and Design, the Portland Art Museum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kadist Art Foundation, and Artist Pension Trust.[9] In 2013, she was included in Phaidon Press’ Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing and in 2014, she received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation "Artist as Activist" Grant, and an Art Matters Grant.[10]

Between 2000 and 2005, Lesperance was engaged in costume- and prop-making for a large-format photography project with collaborator Jeanine Oleson in which both women performed as the last women on earth.[11] This project, entitled "Off the Grid," was represented by Monya Rowe Gallery, NYC, and was received by arts writers as an alternate depiction of pre-history for women wherein Lesperance and Oleson assumed "the mythical characters of prehistoric huntresses, earth goddesses, and pioneer women."[12][13] And like Lesperance's current activist sweater painting series, the work can be read as revisionist in its nature.[14] "If this is theater," writes Julia Bryan-Wilson in ArtUS magazine, "it is theater as revelation."[15][16]

Lesperance received her MFA in Visual Arts from Rutgers University in 1999.[17]


  1. ^ So, Adrienne (April 25, 2011). "The Strong, Star-Bright Companions". Cool Hunting. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Rattemeyer, Christian (2013). Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing. Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714865281.
  3. ^ "Ellen Lesperance - It's Never Over - Ambach and Rice - Los Angeles". Art Splash. 2013-02-16. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  4. ^ Lesperance, Ellen (April 15, 2011). "The Strong, Star-Bright Companions by Ellen Lesperance". Guernica. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  5. ^ Rosenberg, Karen (January 8, 2016). "Knit, Purl, Protest: The Radical Feminist Stitchcraft of Ellen Lesperance". Art Space. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  6. ^ Graves, Jen (October 26, 2010). "Currently Hanging: Ellen Lesperance". The Stranger. Slog. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  7. ^ Wagenblast, Paul (May 7, 2012). "Frieze New York". AnOther. Art & Photography / In Pictures. Retrieved 2013-05-02. 
  8. ^ Lesperance, Ellen (2011). "Cardigan Worn by One Woman of the Boeing Five, Tried for Entering the Boeing Nuclear Missile Plant on September 27th, 1983, Sentenced to Fifteen Days in the King County Jail for Defending Life on Earth". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Ellen Lesperance". Ambach & Rice. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Ellen Lesperance". Art Matters. 2014. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ Bessire, Mark (2006). Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale. JRP|Ringier Press. ISBN 3905770075
  12. ^ Koslow, Francis (2006). "Exhibition Review". Tema Celeste Magazine, Issue 113:January/February
  13. ^ Miller, Francine Koslow (2003). "Ellen Lesperance & Jeanine Oleson from Tema Celeste". Jeanine Oleson. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ Cotter, Holland (July 8, 2005). "Fanciful to Figurative to Wryly Inscrutable". The New York Times. Art & Design | Art Review. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  15. ^ Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2005). "Exhibition Review". ArtUS Magazine, Issue 11:December.
  16. ^ Bryan-Wilson, Julia (December 11, 2005). "Ellen Lesperance & Jeanine Oleson from ArtUS December 2005-February 2006". Jeanine Oleson. Art US. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Ellen Lesperance. Zieher Smith & Horton. Retrieved April 19, 2016.