“……he wasted his talent.”

February 8, 2010

After Monte’s death on June 3, 2009, it was not uncommon for people who knew Monte to make various comments of how “he wasted his talent.” For people fortunate to know Monte, able to see a great deal of his artwork and with knowledge of his other abilities, such a belief was quite understandable and not taken as an insult.  However, it was an incorrect assumption.  Monte did not waste his talent, but instead, was a vastly misunderstood artist when it came to any belief of him wasting his talent.

When it came to his artistic work habits, many people may not have realized Monte possessed a deep, possibly unrealistic, perfectionist streak, where to him, no piece was ever complete enough for public viewing or purchase.   Many times, upon viewing a piece he had sold, even years later, he would point to improvements he should have made to the piece while he had the opportunity.  On top of this, it is quite possible Monte had a hard time parting with works of art he put so much time and effort into into.

Monte also lacked a strong desire to enter the world of marketing and self-promotion needed to ensure financial success his artwork should have brought.  He also was quite discouraged about how the arts in America were viewed and treated.

Another issue, even though it seems contradictory to his perfectionist streak, involved his own knowledge of the width of this talent.  Existing in a relatively small, populated region, throughout his life compliments toward his talents were many and may have led to a perception his talent should do the hard work for him.  In one way, his awareness of his talent may have caused the belief people should come to him, rather than he become a successful self-promoter.

Still, with these faults, he had good reasons to have appeared to have “wasted his talent” when it came to financial success.

For one, his love of Nature was unmatched and he possessed a strong drive to reproduce the natural world in an accurate manner. Often, he would profess he cared more about the natural world than that of man.  His love of Nature cannot be over emphasized, nor his disgust when it came to man’s treatment of nature.  Monte would become quite stubborn when asked to compromise these beliefs.

At one point or another, many of the Ellis family were able to work at the Duck Island Gun and Hunting Club (from here on out, this establishment will be referred to as “Big Lake.”)  Monte was site manager of this area from around 1965 until 1974.  This period of his life was instrumental in his artistic development and love of nature.  Often times, Monte and Sharyl would remark how this was one of the most enjoyable periods of their life.   Through journals, Monte also revealed how this period was also one filled of great consternation for him when it came to his art, observations of nature and how he saw how others behaved in nature.

Later, more will be added of the impact this site had upon Monte.

During this time at Big Lake, one other aspect had great influence upon Monte and his desire for marketing and the selling of his artwork.   The exact details are not clear, but near what would be the end of his tenure as site manager of Big Lake, Monte met a man who made great promises and predictions to him regarding his artistic and financial future.

Placing a strong belief in these predictions, in 1975 Monte signed a contract with an art distributorship company that involved very restrictive contractual standards when it came to his artwork.  This contract entailed a stipend of $600 dollars a month for one painting every two months.  Recall, Monte had a deep issue when it came to artistic perfection.  To him, no piece of artwork was ever finished and always in need of refinement, so finishing a painting to his standards in two months was an almost impossible task for Monte.

This contract also required Monte show all of his artwork to this company with the understanding the company could pick and choose the best pieces of his  artwork and do with them what it thought best.

Along with this contract, people involved in this company persuaded Monte he should focus fully on art production and must quit the site manager job at Big Lake.

For these reasons and a naivety of the commercial art world, along with the incorrect belief his family hated living deep in the Illinois River bottoms, Monte chose to follow this recommendation and relinquished the site manager job.   These decisions turned out to trouble Monte and Sharyl for years to come.

Soon after, the Monte Ellis family moved to a small house in Banner, IL and Monte purchased a cabin along the Illinois River from his cousin Johnny Greg Riley.  This cabin would later became known as the River Bank Gallery.

Another facet of art consumption which grated on Monte was how those with a less keen eye toward fine arts commonly thought such productions were easy to complete with little effort and underestimate their worth.  From time to time, while in local taverns, Monte would be asked to paint subjects such as a hunter’s Labrador Retriever with a duck in its mouth or with the hunter’s favorite shotgun and then become stunned or belligerent when informed of the costs involved to fine art.  To some of these people, it was hard to understand there was more to painting than slapping paint on a canvas in a haphazard way.

Another point where Monte refused to compromise his art involved him being approached to paint a painting for the cover of a popular outdoor magazine.  The request was for Monte to create a wildlife painting large enough so a shotgun could be placed upon the illustration for the a  front cover this magazine.  Monte declined due to the amount of work needed and the measly pay such commission offered.

One last incident that may have led to the misunderstanding of Monte’s drive dealt with his colon cancer surgery in 1992.  During surgery, he was over-anesthetized, which resulted in undiagnosed brain damage.  After his recovery and for years later, he would tell people he no longer “saw” things the same.  Frequently, people ascribed his comments and behavior to either depression or laziness.   After years of seeking different forms of treatment from several doctors, Monte found a psychologist able to correctly diagnose his brain damage.  Unfortunately, the actual discovery of the brain damage was beyond the statute of limitations for any sort of legal recourse.

Oddly, near the end of his life, Monte would remark that he was finally starting to “see” things like he used to prior to his colon cancer.


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