Ellen Kong: Painting in Space

To Ellen Kong, shaping clay is “painting in space”, transforming strong two-dimensional images and brilliant colors into three-dimensional forms. Airbrush, masking, and collage techniques enhance the surface textures. In contrast to the bright, radiant, oxidation-fired pieces, Kongutilizes smoke firing to create rich, luminous earth tone surfaces. The delightful Mama-san Series combines the skill and discipline of traditional oriental painting techniques with the unpredictable smoke from a sawdust-firing kiln. The flame-licking Raku kiln produces dramatic pieces, such as the elegant kimonos embellished with lustrous glazes and intricate textural designs. They give viewers a poetic fantasy and rich visual experiences.


Kong was attracted to the kimono shape for several reasons. Traditional kimonos are cut on straight lines, like a canvas,” she explains. “But they are wrapped around a human form which gives three dimensions.” She uses this three-dimensionality to impart the illusion of movement.” -Barbara McKenzie, Clay Times.


Kong was selected as the featured artist in the 10th Anniversary Exhibition of Toyama, Japan. Her works were also included in an Invitational Art Exhibition at the Target Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, the national exhibition space of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, juried by Stephen Phillips, associate curator of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. She was twice a recipient of the Sarah Graham Kenan Grant Award.

Kong graduated Summa Cum Laude from Taiwan Normal University with a BFA, received her MFA from UNC-Greensboro, and has studied further at Penland and Idyllwild School of Music & the Arts in California. She is the author of The Great Clay Adventure. Her work is in numerous corporate and private collections, including the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, South Carolina, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Duke University Medical Center, Wachovia Bank, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

One of Ellen Kong's ceramic kimonos, front and back

Artist Statement

My roots as a painter have branched freely into my current interests in ceramics. Thus surface and form have become mutually dependent in my work. I seek surface designs that rise, dance, and express three-dimensional forms. Painting and sculpture cross-pollinate, yielding synergistic, hybrid forms. Like the horticulturist, I must devote time to nurture each individual work. 


Creating with clay is forever new to me. It is challenging, and intriguing. I like to construct cascading ceramic series, in which one work flows into the next. This sculptural stream of consciousness intrigues me as a vehicle to capture ideas and forms. The incessant pursuit of the ever-expanding boundaries of technique and images nourishes me. In my work, wind-borne seeds sown long ago germinate and bloom unexpectedly, defying time and space. In a unique fashion, they emerge and transform into design elements that reflect my own passage.


You can find Kong’s work at New Elements Gallery.

"Heavenly Bliss" by Ellen Kong

"Southern Grandiflora" by Ellen Kong

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