Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Ellen Lanyon: 1926 – 2013

Ellen Lanyon, 1926-2013.  Courtesy of Andrew Ginzel

Ellen Lanyon, 1926-2013. Courtesy of Andrew Ginzel

Ellen Lanyon was such an indomitable spirit, the very personification of vitality, that likely few of the many younger people who gravitated towards her are likely to have given much thought to her vulnerability.  That at least is the case of this writer who has been privileged to enjoy the friendship of the artist for the best part of ten years.  It comes as a tremendous shock to learn that last night, October 7, Ellen suffered a fatal heart attack at immigration after flying back from England where she had spent two weeks working on a new edition of prints.  She was 86.

Lanyon was both a leading force in the Chicago art scene and an equally beloved one in her adoptive home of New York City.  She had taught for many years at the Art Institute of Chicago and was connected with several different generations of imagists in the windy city.  The formal finesse, humor and literary liveliness of her collage-oriented painting and printmaking sensibility captured perfectly a fusion of Americana and Surrealism that was at once pure Chicago and totally her own.

Ellen was a doyenne of noble causes whether they entailed public activism or private mentorship.  Her tastes were passionate but catholic and unbiased by anything other than quality and integrity.  And however devoted and creative she was in her various artistic and social struggles – the loft movement, the women’s movement, teaching at the Art Institute, Cooper Union, SVA, her leadership role at the National Academy and other artist-run organizations, historic preservation in Chicago, her collecting of extraordinary machines and toys that also made their way into her work – her art came first.  She was prolific, ever open to change, and utterly stalwart in her struggle for the authentic image.

Information regarding a memorial service and further tributes will follow.

Ellen Lanyon, Fisch, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

click to enlarge


  • Richard in Chicago

    I was fortunate to meet Ellen Lanyon some years ago at one of her shows, and to experience
    her kind friendliness toward a nobody who merely liked painting. She insisted that I not pay for the catalogue, I think because she overheard me telling the attendant how much I enjoyed her work. I’ll always remember the conversation of the small group on that Saturday afternoon. She, and her paintings, will stay with us.

  • Diane Burko

    I first met Ellen in the 70;s through Mimi Shapiro and the women’s movement and have kept up with her ever since. What a forceful spirit and great artist. We last saw each other at the opening of the Female Gaze in Philadelphia almost a year ago and we shared some memories for me also pride of being in the same show together. It was in 93′ that she was on a panel I organized at the CAA in same city we recalled on Drawing with Keith Haring, Arnold Bittleman , Dottie Attie -she was great. Sad news to come home to.

  • jane logemann

    worked together with others on #13 Heresies

    strong, compassionate, supportive of others…sympathy goes out.