Global Landscapes Retrospectives – Overview
On 28 March 2023, over 200 guests walked into the Weill Terrace Room at Carnegie Hall in New York City, to experience Ella Spira’s Global Landscapes Retrospective. They were greeted by a musical score composed by Ella, drawing on past compositions for live theatre performances. It accompanied a display of over sixty landscapes, charcoal drawings and photographs. The exhibition culminated with the screening of Heart To Heart, a song co-written by Ella, and two young New Yorkers selected via an open call in New York City to be part of Ella’s creative journey.
The concept for Global Landscapes Retrospective emerged following a first exhibition in Singapore, held in November 2022 at Art Now gallery, in Raffles Hotel. This first display included six paintings created by Ella in Singapore, several charcoal drawings, together with The Inner Landscapes of Ella, a selection of intimate photographs by Singaporean photographer Rebecca Toh. Global Landscapes Singapore crystallised in Ella the desire to take time to revisit countries she had worked in during the previous decade, creating live theatrical performances for Sisters Grimm. The outcome of this process became Global Landscapes Retrospective, a reflection by Ella on her career to date, through the medium of paint; a journey across familiar territories and an exploration of new places and connections.
Global Landscapes Retrospective at Carnegie Hall was organised in nine sections. Opening with South Africa, it paid tribute to the late Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo with whom Ella collaborated for the Sister’s Grimm show ‘INALA: a Zulu ballet’. The four paintings in this section, including ‘Boulders on Munster Beach’, ‘Hilltop view the Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Park’and the more fragmented collage ‘Pietra looking at the sea’ attest to Ella’s desire to immerse herself in other cultures.
The next section presented four paintings created in Brazil, depicting the Serra do Mar’s peaks and tropical vegetation along the sinuous coastline of Ubatuba, as well as the Rosewood Hotel in São Paolo. It revisited a country in which Ella wrote the dance-musical production ‘Voices of the Amazon’, narrated by Jeremy Irons, raising awareness of the need to safeguard indigenous traditions and cultures.
The following section took visitors to Indonesia and featured four paintings, including ‘Pietra in Bogor’ portraying Pietra Mello-Pittman, Ella’s close friend and business partner, sat reading under a banyan tree. This painting captured sensitively our close connection with nature. (This painting was recently acquired by a Chinese collector.)
A set of eight charcoal drawings provided a sequence break from the landscapes. Sketched in a variety of locations, from Singapore to New York City, using charcoal in thick, heavy tones to evoke the bars’ dark mood lighting. The creation of these drawings gave Ella a way to lose herself in the city and enjoy a moment of calm. A kind of escapism and a celebration of a place at the same time.
The exhibition continued with a display of Japanese landscapes and cityscapes, presenting a contrasting view of tradition and modernity that Ella encountered in Japan. From the densely built and artificially lit city of Osaka, to the Buddhist Kiyomizu-dera temple in eastern Kyoto, to a view of Jōmon Sugi, a Cryptomeria tree, more than five thousand years old.
A selection of fifteen paintings gave an overview of ‘50 for 50’, a series of fifty paintings marking the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the UAE created by Ella during her stay in Dubai. Originally intended to be in Dubai for the Expo 2020 to stage live performances, the Covid Pandemic meant Ella spent two years painting across all seven emirates, drawing attention to the natural ecosystems she felt were undervalued. From the Fujairah mountains, to the Al Wathba fossil dunes, the Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque or the Burj Khalifa at sunset, the paintings chart the rich landscapes of the emirates, which inspired Ella to launch Art In Nature in the UAE, in order to encourage young people to discover their natural environment.
The two artworks made in Albania during October 2021, roughly depicting craggy mountain faces, panoramic views and thundering cascades were presented next. The use of palette knives rather than brushes, gave a sensation of movement, which also derived from her habit of painting ‘en plein air’. This was also in evidence in the five paintings executed in Singapore, where Ella ventured out on a small boat into the middle of Singapore’s bustling port. As storm clouds gathered, she allowed raindrops to dilute and direct the flow of fresh paint on her canvas, imbuing the painting with a sensation of movement and disorientation.
Also shown in the Singapore section of the exhibition, a series of closely shot photographs taken by Singaporean photographer Rebecca Toh captured Ella’s inner emotions glimpsed in ordinary moments of self-absorption and unfiltered honesty. Although at times pensive and withdrawn, Ella’s smile and confident optimism shone through.
The Ocean Chamber was the penultimate stop in the Global Landscapes Retrospective journey. An immersive room within the exhibition, it included eight panels painted with enamel on glass. They were painted in Little Bay Beach and Palm Beach Australia, as well as on board a submarine, in Oahu, in Hawaii, at 50ft, 100ft and 150ft under water. Behind each panel, a lighting installation inspired by the sonar systems that Ocean X’s oceanographers use to map life underwater, brought the artworks to life.
Five charcoal drawings of the two young New Yorkers selected via an open call to co-write a song with Ella introduced the last chapter in the display. The drawings of Julia Miranda and John Clarke jr. aka jdccapa, as well as the two sketches of the studio in which they recorded the song, presented intimate portraits of the singers and their environment. Concluding the display, ‘Heart To Heart’s expansive tune, alluded evocatively to the two young artists’ experience and struggles as they took their first steps in their creative career. Marrying the voices and styles of both performers, Julia’s guitar and unique tone of voice blending with John’s mellowed rap, it provided the perfect keynote on which to end the exhibition.
As visitors travelled through the Global Landscapes Retrospective experience, they discovered important moments in Ella Spira’s creative journey. Beyond this, they were invited to reflect on the interplay between the natural and cultural environments they inhabit. The Global Landscapes Retrospective transcended national boundaries to portray nature and culture as global commons, to be enjoyed and protected by all humankind.
Of the 200 people who attended the Global Landscapes Retrospective, over 160 were invited to take part in the VIP event which included a live performance of ‘Heart To Heart’ and an interview of Ella, by Alice Black, founder of ArtULTRA and former director of the Design Museum in London, who also curated the exhibition.
The conversation reprised several of the topics raised in the exhibition and allowed Ella to delve more deeply into particular themes, from her desire to collaborate with artists from different countries in order to foreground diverse cultures, to giving the opportunity to young people to be involved in her creative journey and to think about their place in the natural ecosystem. Through the conversation, guests gained an insight in Ella’s creative process, which comes to fruition in the creation of visual artworks as well as musical pieces.
Heart to Heart – Ella Spira, Julia Miranda & jdccappa
Heart to Heart is co-written by Ella Spira MBE and two 17-year-old New Yorkers, Julia Miranda and John Clarke jr. aka Jdccapa who were chosen after an extensive city-wide search for young talents early this year. The music video featured at “Global Landscapes Retrospective” exhibition at Carnegie Hall Weill Terrace room on 28th & 29th March.
Global Landscapes Singapore
Ella Spira, MBE was commissioned to create a set of paintings about Singapore, as part of her Global Landscape series.
‘Global Landscapes Singapore’ and ‘The Inner Landscapes of Ella’ was exhibited at Art Now Gallery, in Raffles Hotel, Singapore in early November 2022.
For more information and to view the Singapore series click here
The event included an ‘In Conversation with’ and for this talk, the artists were interviewed by Alice Black, former director for 13 years of The Design Museum in London and Director of ArtULTRA to shed light on their process, influences, inspiration and intention, giving context to the artworks created in Singapore.
The World Premiere was at Dubai Opera during the Nation’s 50th Anniversary 29 November to 14 December 2021.
The multimedia exhibition with composed audio track and artist commentary, received critical acclaim, 1.8 million reach, with reviews and audience feedback praising the immersive exhibition experience and fusion of arts & cultures. 390 visitors from 40 different countries including UAE were interviewed.
Ella wishes to increase awareness in the UAE of the environment & climate change by promoting conservation and lesser know natural landscapes in need of preservation. Since the series was first displayed, the Al Wathba Fossil Dunes in Abu Dhabi, is now a Protected Area.