Dr. James Ellis

Research Assistant Professor
Art History, Art Theory

James Ellis is an art historian from the United States.  He received his Ph.D. in Art History from Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, and his M.A. from Rice University, in Houston, Texas.  His research interests include American realism, particularly social realist paintings and prints from the 1930s and 1940s, and European Modernism.

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He also attended law school in New York City and was a practicing attorney for several years prior to moving to Hong Kong in 2011. Dr. Ellis understands art objects as cultural artifacts embodying specific values and beliefs.  He is currently developing publication projects exploring ways colonial-era artists represented Hong Kong to Western audiences in ‘fine art’, illustrations and commercial work.  In addition, he is a practicing studio artist, specialising in watercolour and oil media.


James Ellis’ research interests include the production of social realist and urban realist painters and printmakers working during the first half of the twentieth century.  His doctoral dissertation examined Reginald Marsh and other members of New York’s so-called “Fourteenth Street School” and his master’s thesis presented a largely unexplored set of works by the noted social realist painter and documentary photographer Ben Shahn.

His primary methodologies have included social contextualising and psycho-biographical analysis.  In addition, recently he began exploring the ways Western commercial artists and illustrators have represented the local environment and population during Hong Kong’s colonial period.  He is considering the surprisingly loaded racial, class, gender and economic messages at the core of seemingly straightforward imagery.

Dr. Ellis wants to help open windows onto ideas and passions for visual arts students.  He hopes that the immersion in art theory and history will enhance the students’ studio endeavors, and that they will learn to develop their own creative expressions while discovering the inventive languages of others.  A serious art student must strive to realise that art objects represent the philosophies and ideals of the culture(s) in which they are produced.  In the midst of an explosion of styles and unexplored media, and seismic shifts in the social order, the current group of AVA students have a golden opportunity to define what art means in the twenty-first century.  Dr. Ellis’ role is to broaden horizons and inspire creativity.