Born in Michigan, Ellison acquired his BFA and MFA degrees from Michigan State University. He has permanently sited commissions from Providence, Rhode Island, to Santa Rosa, California to Anchorage, Alaska. Ellison first worked in ceramics. He taught at Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, College of Marin and San Francisco Academy of Art College. He migrated to large scale sculpture. He was recognized for his love of whimsy and colorful palette. Ellison passed away in September 2012.
Four Times Daily depicts stylized bar notes nailed to a ribbon. Four Times Daily has an autobiographical influence. Robert Ellison conceived of the piece because of his love of music and the piano. Ellison set out to create a piece that would appear to defy gravity. It is also his largest creation. The sky ribbon of blue with leather straps and accordion screw heads was made with the help of students from the College of Marin where Ellison was teaching in the mid to late 1970s.
At the same time that Ellison had begun fabricating his sculpture, the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill received a commission to design the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The architects were familiar with Ellison, liked his work and the scale of the sculpture. They asked him to modify the design to fit the building design. It was their intent to install the sculpture at the symphony hall. The sculpture was finished before the hall was completed. In 1978, the sculpture was installed in Civic Center Plaza. It was to be a temporary exhibition period of one year awaiting the completion of the symphony hall. During this time another sculpture was donated to the city for placement at the symphony building. A sculpture by Henry Moore usurped the space designated for the Ellison and the architects could not persuade the city to change its mind.
In the early 1980s Four Times Daily moved to a Design Center located at China Camp in Marin where it remained until a grant from the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation enabled the artist and crew to dismantle the piece and move it to the artist’s studio for a complete restoration. Four Times Daily was installed at Paradise Ridge Winery in April 2013.
‘Bi’ was built in 1971 in San Francisco by Robert Ellison. It was initially displayed in the fall of 1974 at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery in Kentfield when Robert was a member of the faculty at the college. It was then displayed at the San Francisco Art Festival where it received a merit award and the jury recommended that the City purchase the piece for its permanent collection. That purchase did not go through and the piece ultimately ended up on a long term loan to a private residence in Bodega Bay until its restoration and inclusion in The Spirit of the Man exhibit at Paradise Ridge.
“This is first large sculpture I built after moving to California from Michigan. This is also the first piece I created that was not built from Corten Steel, it is the first painted welded steel piece. The form is intended to be abstract in nature with the general shape being a large sweeping gesture that appears to be squeezed together in the center forming an intimate interior space. The squeezing motion appears to have forced an eruption of a field of looped forms which explode outwardly. Because the piece has these two general dynamics, one being squeezed or compressed together inwardly and one of exploding outwardly, I chose to name the piece ‘Bi’ to represent these two forces. The rust red color was chosen to give the piece a color identity while still allowing it to appear organic in nature.”
“This piece has been on public display for many years and has been enjoyed musically by people of all ages. Because the field of loops consists of all individual loops that are all different lengths, when tapped they emit a different tone and happy musical melodies can be played. This has brought active joy to many people who have heard it over the years.”