Profile: Janiva Ellis

Janiva Ellis is an American painter based in Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA.  Ellis often makes figurative paintings that explore the African-American female experience.



Born in Oakland, California, Ellis moved to Hawaii at the age of 7, moving back and forth between the islands of Kauai and Oahu. Raised solely by her white mother, in a state with a very small black population, Ellis uses her art practice to investigate and examine the complex racial dynamic of her upbringing.  Ellis studied painting at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, graduating in 2012.

Ellis describes her paintings as “not only an attempt to communicate to nonblack women my experience, but also to call to other black women, ‘Do you feel this, too?’” Critics have commended Ellis for the psychoanalytic tension in her paintings.  Occasionally, the paintings incorporate religious symbology; such as lambs or angels, referencing the canon of religious painting. In 2017, Ellis presented “Lick Shot” at 47 Canal, her first solo show in New York City. In 2018, Ellis participated in the New Museum Triennial – “Songs for Sabotage.” Ellis is set to show in the 2019 Whitney Biennial curated by Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta.

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