A lifelong writer and illustrator, Ellen Hosafros paints like a true storyteller.
Ellen Hosafros with her painting, “Sirius Made Me Do It,” which is part of NOMA’s “Dog Days of Summer” exhibition. The painting tells the story of the unseen narrator, Fido, who dishes out payback to his four felonious feline housemates. Things go awry and Fido blames his behavior on the Sirius star. Oil on canvas, 18” x 24”. [Supplied]
Ellen Hosafros is as multi-talented and dynamic in her life as she is in her art.
She has worn the hats of a corporate communications director, cartoon illustrator, graphic designer, storyteller, journalistic features writer, wife, mom, farm girl, and, most recently, a fine art painter.
“I’m equally right-brained and left-brained,” she explained. “I’m very punctual. I strategize, and I plot things, but when I’m painting, I’ll start with an idea and I’ll think, ‘Oh, gee, I’m going to do this landscape,’ and then it goes off the rails because I’ve just let myself go. I kind of get into a zone.”
Though Hosafros has been painting fine art professionally for five years, she has been drawing since she was old enough to wield a pencil, when her uncle taught her how to trace over the Sunday comics.
Hosafros’s works have been featured at the College of Central Florida’s Webber Gallery three times and at NOMA Gallery twice in the past couple of years. This summer, you can see her paintings in NOMA Gallery’s “Dog Days of Summer” show, which runs from June 7 to Aug. 27, and in “Summer Spotlight XXVI” at CF’s Webber Gallery through July 20.
Her paintings draw the viewer in with alluring, stylized imagery, which ranges from impressionistic to surreal to abstract.
Animals and imaginary creatures often appear; most recently, the half-dragon-half-human in a fantastical world she’s been chronicling in her young adult novel in the works, “The Misfit Forest.”
The CF show features a work inspired by a character in the book: “DragonElla of the Misfit Forest,” and her honorable mention-winning “Pareidolia — Seeing Faces and Shapes Out of Randomness,” which celebrates the human tendency to see familiar forms in clouds and other ambiguous patterns.
Oil is Hosafros’s preferred medium (“acrylic dries too fast”), but don’t ask her to paint a portrait. It’s not her thing. She finds portraiture too limiting.
“An artist friend introduced me to alcohol ink, and, of course, I just went crazy,” she recalled with a chuckle. “It was so much fun because it’s so serendipitous. …It’s like life: You do your best, but sometimes life takes you in all these different directions and you just go with the flow.”
Organic, bold and dreamy, the colors in Hosafros’s oil paintings reflect the wildly creative, no-nonsense Midwesterner behind the paintbrush.
Her 2022 oil painting “Hawk Watch at the Birdbath” depicts “birds cooling themselves in a birdbath, chirping their delight, spied on by a hawk circling above. They fly back to the safety of the tree where they gaze upward with suspicion. The scene is emblematic of a hot, lazy day, a summer in the sun.”
Her unique approach to point of view adds an intriguing layer. Subjects peering from outside the works come to life through her artist statements and are as much a part of the art as the subjects we actually see.
She describes this unseen subject as an unreliable narrator.
One such invisible commentator, Fido, pops in on her work, “Sirius Made Me Do It,” exhibiting in NOMA’s “Dog Days of Summer.”
Artists in the NOMA show were tasked to draw from the phrase “dog days of summer,’ which comes from ancient Greece and Rome, when people believed that the hot and sultry days of summer were caused by the rising of the star Sirius, also known as the “dog star,” the brightest in the night sky, and during the summer months, it rises and sets with the sun.
Hosafros wrote her artist statement from Fido’s point of view and in the same way a writer would construct a fictional tale. Though absent, we learn through Hosafros’ cleverly worded prose that Fido exacts revenge on the four cats who live with him. He claims that the felines make his life miserable and gives us the excuse “Sirus Made Me Do It” for doing something naughty.
“As I started the painting, the phrase ‘My dog ate my homework’ flashed in my mind,” Hosafros explained, “and then I recalled a Greek mythology reference stating that the star Sirius impacted the behavior of earthbound dogs.”
Born Ellen Heistad in southeastern Wisconsin in 1950, Hosafros grew up in Caldwell, a small village on the border of Waukesha and Racine counties.
“I think the county line ran maybe a hundred feet away from the property,” she said. “I was raised on a farm, and I stayed there until we were about, I guess I was about 13, and then we moved to the city of Waukesha, which was quite a culture shock for me because I went to a three-room schoolhouse in Caldwell.”
She knew since she was 15, when she first heard the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming,” that she would live in the Golden State one day.
Just shy of 30, the graduate of Thomas Edison State University relocated to Los Angeles, where she met and married her husband, Edward, a native of Ohio. Edward’s manufacturing job took the couple to different cities across the nation before they moved to north Central Florida.
Hosafros has two sons: Daniel Hammill, of Bellingham, Washington; and Matthew Hosafros, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Before retiring in 2020, Hosafros was director of corporate communications for Corporate Synergies, a national group health insurance broker, and she spent 25 years as a features writer and humor columnist for two daily newspapers in Sedalia, Missouri, and Charlottesville, Virginia.
She also punched the clock as an executive editor of a twice-weekly community newspaper in northeast Arkansas before moving into public education communications, then manufacturing communications, and finally health insurance communications.
According to Hosafros, there’s no hierarchy and no boundaries when it comes to creating art with words or imagery.
“As a humanist, I believe that visual art and literature should be all-inclusive.”
To see more of Ellen Hosafros’s art, visit ellenhosafrosart.artcall.org.