Coastal Collections: Ellen Paige Leach

Ellen Paige Leach’s other-worldly artwork uses “forced malfunction” to break images apart until they become something new. One of Saatchi Art's 'Rising Stars' in 2018, she balances her own artistic practice with brand collaborations, including Rapha. We spoke to her about how her inspiration takes the shape of coastlines both past present, and what the future holds.

By: Hazel Beevers,   5 minutes

Strike [S]: Your recent collections have been inspired by the coast. Can you tell us a bit more about the relationship between the natural environment and your work?

Ellen Paige Leach [E]: For me it’s all about getting outside and connecting with nature. Being outdoors can have such a positive impact, it has the power to heal the body and mind. I’ve always loved being outdoors but as I started to link it to my artwork it became very meditative and ritualistic.

By exploring forced malfunction in the code that makes up the fabric of the image I aim to highlight the fragility of nature. We are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis and the future looks pretty bleak. Art holds so much power in its ability to provoke emotional, visceral responses to climate change – something that data points and statistics often struggle to do. My deliberate use of accidents and flaws juxtaposes with the beautiful untouched landscape. A warning of what might be lost if we don’t change our ways.

“My deliberate use of accidents and flaws in my artwork’s creation juxtaposes the beautiful untouched landscape. A warning of what might be lost if we don’t change our ways.”

S: How would you describe your work?

E: It’s organised chaos. I take beautiful landscapes and force them to the brink of destruction. The way I work involves a lot of trial and error but that’s what keeps it interesting.

S: Can you describe your creative process?

E: My main process of creating artwork begins with collecting digital images. Using photography to document, I immerse myself in the landscape by focusing on shape, colour and texture. Even in the early stages of creating artwork, subject matter and composition are very important. The images then go through a long process of editing and forced destruction. Never the same, my process involves breaking the images apart until they become something new. Working with scripts and coding means the outcome is always unpredictable and random so it can be quite time consuming to get something I’m happy with. Although it’s always the most exciting part!

“Never the same, my process involves breaking the images apart until they become something new.”

S: Have you always created artwork in this way? How has your work evolved over the years?

E: When I first started university, I didn’t really know what I wanted to specialise in. I’d always loved working with photography but as I progressed through first year I was focused on collage and painting. In my second year I started a project where I posted three artworks a day on Instagram. I set a goal to post for 100 days but I ended up carrying on for a full year. This project required me to take photos from my everyday life in and around Cornwall. I would edit them in a way that altered them slightly, but not so much that you couldn’t tell what the original photograph was. After this project there was a natural progression into the beginnings of work I make now, although there was a big evolution after I left university. I had only just started to branch out into more abstract images before I graduated. Beginning to worry less about who would see my art gave me new freedom to experiment and make work I genuinely enjoy.

S: Your collection for Rapha was inspired by your native seaside town in Yorkshire, and you graduated from Falmouth University on the Cornish coast. How did these different coastlines affect your creative process and output? Were there different elements in each that inspired you?

E: The East Yorkshire coast is vastly different to the Cornish coast. Like many artists before me I fell head over heels for Cornwall and its turquoise waters. My original plan was to move to London to do my degree, but I know my practice wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t ended up in Falmouth. Cornwall made me fall in love with going outside again and for that it will always have a special place in my heart.

 The East Yorkshire coast hasn’t actually changed that much, but I think the way in which I view it has. For me, going on long walks along the coast is very therapeutic and since graduating I look at my surroundings in a much more thoughtful way. The same places I took for granted as a kid, I now look at as being unique and beautiful. When I lived in Cornwall, I went out of my way to discover new places because I wanted to see as much of the coast as I possibly could. Growing up here that wasn’t really a priority. When the pandemic hit and we had to go into lockdown I used that time to reconnect with my hometown. Bridlington is a pretty touristy place so it was nice to view it from a new, quieter perspective. I suddenly had way too much free time so I poured that into my art. I enjoy making work based on my surroundings and I wasn’t going anywhere so this coastline became my prime focus.

S: Your work encompasses both commercial commissions and fine art. How do you balance these competing priorities?

E: I’ve definitely turned down a lot of projects that just weren’t right for me but for someone else they could be. Working with Rapha was a totally new experience, when they first reached out, I wasn’t sure how my artwork would translate to cyclewear. In the end it was a really rewarding collaborative experience, they were wonderful to work with and I was proud of the final collection.

S: In 2018 you were named as one of Saatchi Art’s ‘Rising Stars’. What does the future hold? What are your areas of focus in the next few years? Will you always take inspiration from the coast, or move onto different environments?

E: I don’t have any sort of concrete plan; the world seems like a completely different place now compared to when I graduated. I was set to move to London just before the pandemic hit and that ended up not happening. I see the natural landscape always being a part of my work but I’m definitely starting to feel like I want to experiment with new processes. I have always fancied the idea of doing a masters so that may be on the cards for me moving forward.

S: Where can we find your artwork exhibited or sold?

E: I’m always open to direct enquiries about artwork sales and commissions. I can be contacted via email, my website or Instagram. My artwork is also available to purchase online through Saatchi Art. I’m currently exhibiting as part of a group show at the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate and I have some exciting projects planned for the new year which will be announced on my Instagram.



Read the feature this story was inspired by, and discover more in the latest issue of Strike in print, available to buy from our shop now.

Meet illustrator and printmaker Rosanna Morris, to hear how she sows the seeds of change with her art, in Strike #8

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