The Creatives: Chalk artist and painter Ellen Ogden
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Artistry: Painting, chalk and mural art
It’s a few hours before the doors open for the night, and a brilliant turquoise curtain ripples and sways as a sound crew behind its long folds preps for the night’s band. Looking down is Tupac Shakur—festooned in classic Shakespearean ruffles that recall the late rapper’s deep theatrical roots—and a winged Queen icon Freddie Mercury crooning like the son of Icarus and Hamlet into the skull he holds aloft. There, on the otherwise empty dance floor, stands artist Ellen Ogden discussing bar lights and their effect on mural colors with lighting specialist Amos Singleton.
Amy Winehouse, Biggie Smalls and Mac Miller are here, too, but thanks to Ogden, these neon-lit faces of the fallen aren’t solemn but celebratory. Their creative spirits live on at Dead Poet, Baton Rouge’s newest concert-focused bar and home to Ogden’s impossible-to-ignore icons.
“I wanted to blow up some positivity, to pull the vibrancy of their lives out of the tragedies,” Ogden says. “I want everything I create to feel like it has intention and purpose behind it. It’s hard to do that with a famous face.”
Dead Poet co-owner Remi deMatteo appreciates Ogden’s work precisely because it resonates “on a deeper level.”
To the window, to the wall, this veteran Louisiana en plein air artist now colors the city with her intentional and attention-snagging chalkboard illustrations for local businesses like Trader Joe’s—where she’s been the in-house artist for five years—and vivid pop art murals such as this rogues gallery of lost luminaries.
Though Ogden’s back catalog most often intersects traditional folk whimsy and soul-soothing impressionistic landscapes, after a year spent dabbling in new pursuits, 2019 is seeing her dive deeper into murals and larger-scale public works. Ogden’s art is regularly on display at White Star Market, Red Stick Spice Company, Jolie Pearl, The Royal Standard, Radio Bar and Pilates Plus, among others.
“Look for jobs that you can respond to genuinely and honestly,” is her advice to creatives. “Serving with the same heightened passion of your collaborators will make your work better.”
A self-described introvert inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s free-spirited Parisian posters and Euan Uglow’s figure paintings, Ogden taught art and worked under local stained-glass master Steve Wilson, too. She conducts morning chalk sessions at Trader Joe’s, then escapes to long, quiet hours of creating in her home studio.
Drawing motivation from runs on the levee, and the flora, fauna and found materials filling her native Louisiana, Ogden’s salvaged clay roof tiles painted with bright roseate spoonbills and speckled trout are a unique culmination of her inspirations.
It is important, she believes, to always create things without expectations on the finished work.
Present company excluded, not every piece has to be iconic.
“I have so much art I’ve made that no one will ever see,” she says. “Stuff that I’ll never even look at again, and that’s how it should be.”