The Barnstormers storm Portland


The facade of a barn being reconstructed inside Space Gallery. (photo/Aaron Flacke)
The facade of a barn being reconstructed inside Space Gallery. (photos/Aaron Flacke)

An interview with David Ellis

By Jeff Badger

The Barnstormers are a collective of New York- and Tokyo-based artists who create large-scale collaborative paintings, films and performances. The group formed in 1999, and continue to experiment and create collaborative works domestically and abroad in a variety of incarnations. 

Four Barnstormers – David Ellis, Chuck Webster, Mike Houston and Yuri Shimojo – landed in Portland last week to create a collaborative mural installation in Space Gallery, on Congress Street. The curatorial team at Space not only provided the artists with free reign over the walls, but in keeping with the Barnstormers’ preference to work with indigenous structures, they hauled in a boat, 50-gallon drums, and the hulking, weathered facade of a barn. 

The Barnstormers spent four full days creating the resultant exhibit, “salvage + assemble.” I had a chance to catch up with Barnstormer David Ellis during the installation process. For more on their work, see

The Bollard: How has your experience been working in Portland? 
David Ellis: Honestly, we haven’t seen too much outside of the hotel and Space, so I can’t speak too much about Maine other than what they’ve brought in, like the boat, which seems to me to be an archetype of Maine. We had a conversation about wanting to do something different than what we had done in the past, and I had been to Vinalhaven, and I think I kind of jumped on the idea of boats. But honestly, we didn’t know what to expect until we got here. 

So, in a way, this is also a collaboration with the people at Space.
Yes, you could say that. They did a hell of a lot of work before we got here, based on knowing what we do.


When you came in, did you have an idea of the imagery you would be using, as connected to the space and the objects?

We have been working collaboratively for seven years, and I guess you can say each of us has our own language that we explore, and you can see where we’ve been. With each one, the hope is that we push ourselves a little bit further and work together like a unit where it really feels cohesive. I would say the four styles here are vastly different, but the idea is to make it work – like the different instruments in a band.


Have each of you claimed your own space?
It’s not as simple as that. We are all moving. By the time it’s done, there will be a little of each of us everywhere.








Is that how you generally work?
I think we are still defining the way we work. We have been known for
painting on trucks and other objects from the real world. We are not so interested in making paintings on canvases and putting them in frames. This is really more about what we do: public work, work on the street, and the film work. I think the film work really gelled our collaborative stuff really well. It really wasn’t about any sort of permanent thing, just about going over and over and exercising forms. So, you could look at the films as a fusion of all the processes – all of our work only exists for a brief period of time.

It’s one thing to make a painting with the idea of it being a finished, static thing, which seems to still be what is mostly marketed as art. But I don’t think art really has anything to do with that. I think it comes from the search. A project like our films is a document of that search. It’s a valuable thing for us to go back and see how we flow. It’s in the flow.

“salvage + assemble” shows through Fri., May 19, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland. DVDs of the Barnstormers work are available at the gallery. Hours: Tues.-Sat. noon to 6 p.m., or by appointment. 828-5600.

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