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The Haunting, Shadow-Inspired Paintings Of Melbourne Artist Ella Dunn

Studio Visit

From her shed-turned-studio at the back of her Coburg home, Melbourne artist Ella Dunn creates figurative, expressive works informed by personal experiences. 

Most recently, a moment observed between two children at kindergarten, where Ella (an Early Childhood Teacher in training) was on placement, set in motion the concept for her latest body of work, inspired by  shadows.

23rd September, 2022

Ella Dunn has set up her painting studio in the shed in her backyard. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Ella shares the space with her partner, who creates the wooden frames for her paintings. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘I love having my studio so close and accessible all the time,’ Ella says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Ella’s completed and in-progress works line the walls! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘My drawings inform my paintings,’ the artist explains. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Ella has recently transformed the spare bedroom into an extra studio room. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

The spare studio space gives her more recent larger works some space to ‘breathe’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Ella hadn’t considered painting until she was given an old suitcase filled with oil paints. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘Even if I start out with an idea, I never know where I am going to end up, and that is the beauty of paint.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

When Ella isn’t painting, she’s working as a teacher aide and completin her Early Childhood Education degree. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘Washing day’, by Ella Dunn.

Bea Taylor
Friday 23rd September 2022

‘Even if I start out with an idea, I never know where I am going to end up,’ she says. ‘And that is the beauty of paint,’ – Ella Dunn

Ella Dunn’s figurative paintings are inspired by personal experiences. She derives narratives from people, relationships, places and domestic scenes – there’s no telling where or when she might get a spark of inspiration. 

‘I am always drawing,’ she explains. ‘That informs my paintings. My drawing notebooks come with me everywhere. I often write down moments that I have experienced or that have caught my attention and have stayed with me in some way. As the drawings, sketches and words build, I start to gather a loose, fragmented narrative that drives the works.’ 

Most recently, a moment between two children at kindergarten, where Ella (an Early Childhood Teacher in training) was on placement, set in motion the concept for her latest body of work on shadows.

‘I was pushing two children on the swing when one said “look down!”. Their shadows were dancing up and back along the ground. The child said, “look, I’m touching my shadow, no it’s touching me”, as they reached down to the ground,’ she explains. 

This moment drew Ella’s attention to the many ways in which shadows shift and morph, depending on how you view them. 

‘Looking around, I became aware of the different rhythms and ways shadows displayed themselves. I noticed my shadow following me, being there as company, so I began documenting my shadow on different surfaces,’ she says. 

Her favourite piece in the new collection, ‘I touch my shadow, no my shadow touches me’, is a nod to this moment of conception. 

Painting wasn’t always Ella’s chosen medium. The artist moved from the mid-North coast in New South Wales to Melbourne in 2013 to study fine arts at VCA in drawing and printmaking. But, when a housemate’s friend gave her an old suitcase full of oil paints, she realised she had found her happy place. 

‘I thought I might as well give them a go,’ she says. ‘Since then I have loved the medium of paint and its unpredictability.’ 

She doesn’t have a consistent method she follows, instead she allows intuition to guide the process (which often involves applying layers of paint, removing it and painting over it again).

‘Even if I start out with an idea, I never know where I am going to end up,’ she says. ‘And that is the beauty of paint.’

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net