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All That’s Left: Darrel Ellis and The Case for the Archive

by Steven G. Fullwood

“I use images of my family because they affect me so strongly. And it's just something I knew extremely well, very deeply, and that's why I used them, the images of my family….I don't know any life from the forties and fifties with their picnics and their beautiful clothes and everything is so nice and perfect and wholesome. I don't know that little world, you know.”

--Darrel Ellis, Interview with

David Hirsch, 1991

Last year I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book about Darrell Ellis, an NYC-based Black gay artist who died at age 33 in 1992. Darrel was a painter, sketch artist, and photographer who used his father’s photographs, Thomas Ellis, who was killed by undercover cops in 1958, a few months before Darrel was born, to create fascinating distortions of the Black family dynamic.

The editors of the forthcoming monograph encouraged me to focus on Darrel's immense archive of distortions, photographs, watercolors, and other materials that help shape his artistic legacy. I spent time at Visual AIDS going through boxes of sketches and photographs by Darrel, and reading through transcriptions of interviews with the artist.

My chapter, “The Case of the Artist’s Archive,” seeks to frame Darrel’s life in the context of what’s left behind after an artist dies. Darrel was fortunate that his siblings, who manage his estate, and a fellow artist, Allen Frame, primary custodian of the archive since 1992, are taking care of his legacy. Not so true for most artists. I also consider the future of Darrel’s archive, which is now represented by Candice Madey. Her gallery CANDICE MADEY recently offered Darrel Ellis: A Composite Being, which was on exhibition April 17 – May 29, 2021 in New York City. See part of the show here. “The Case of the Artist’s Archive” will be published in a major monograph on Darrel published by Visual AIDS is forthcoming, fall 2021.

Here is a link to the book:


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