Carla Dee Ellis

Carla Dee Ellis heading off to a modeling assignment. The painting behind her, depicting the cafeteria at SVA, is by John Wilmer, who was the intended first tenet of the loft.

I first met Carla at the University of California at Riverside, where she was usually barefoot and favored bell-bottom trousers like those worn by Sonny & Cher. A child of the desert, Carla was raised about fifteen miles outside Palm Springs in a small house with a back yard of sand and brush that extended to the horizon. She joined me in New York in 1968 and it was her ambitions as an artist that led us to the loft at 98 Bowery. 

Carla's father was an aspiring cartoonist, and she had studied painting in college. Inspired by Andy Warhol's subject matter, style and factory techniques, Carla was quick and prolific, mostly painting portraits of pop icons. I remember one weekend just before Christmas when she created more than a dozen 12” x 12” canvases to give to friends, projecting images of Mick Jagger, Elvis, Li’l Abner, Daisy May and then working with acrylic, spray paint and glitter.

Carla came to New York with ambitions to be an artist but she was soon also working as a fashion model.  Only days after arriving in the city a photographer stopped her on the street and hired her for an advertisement that needed a California blonde.  A week later when we were demonstrating outside of a Richard Nixon fundraiser, Carla was approached by a tuxedo-clad Huntington Hartford who was attending the dinner.  Hunt as he was called invited the two of us to come by his Show magazine office and arranged an appointment for Carla with the Ford Modeling Agency who instantly took her on.   

Carla enjoyed good success with her brightly colored, subtly abstract canvases that she signed “Carla Popcorn.”  She never had a gallery show in New York but one dealer attached to the prestigious Richard Feigen Gallery sold a couple of her Mick Jagger paintings to young collectors.   Her works could also be found on the walls of friends such as art historian Robert Rosenblum and future poet laureate Billy Collins.  Carla continued to paint and exhibit after moving to Los Angeles in 1973.

Carla at the University of California at Riverside, c. 1968

Carla’s backyard in Thermal, CA.

Carla in her childhood bedroom.

Carla impersonating Marc, c. 1968.

Carla at 98 Bowery (her paintings of Rita Hayworth in the background), c. 1971

Carla Dee Ellis, Collage with Photobooth self-portrait covering photo of Marc, c. 1971.

Carla Dee Ellis, “I’m So Distracting”, Marker on paper, 1969

Carla Dee Ellis, Untitled, Ink on paper, c. 1970.

Carla Dee Ellis, “Marc Drawing”, 1969.

Marc in front of room divider / bookcase made of milk crates, painted by Carla, c. 1969.

Marc, enamel paint on wooden box with metal edge, 10" x 16.5", c. 1969

Marc, enamel paint on wooden box with metal edge, 10” x 16.5”, c. 1969

Carla Dee Ellis, “Mick Jagger”, acrylic on canvas, c. 1971

Carla Dee Ellis, “Mick Jagger,” acrylic on canvas, 48” x 48”, c. 1971

Carla Dee Ellis, “Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful,” acrylic on canvas, 48” x 48”, c. 1971

Carla Dee Ellis, “Elvis,” spray paint, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 12" x 12", c. 1972

Carla Dee Ellis, “William Bremer,” (father to Arthur Bremer, attempted assassin of presidential candidate George Wallace), c. 1972.

Carla Dee Ellis, “Charles Manson”, Watercolor, Ink and Glitter, c. 1972.

New York Times article with Carla in an Oleg Cassini suit, c. 1972.

Philippe Halsman photograph of Carla in U.S. Camera Annual ‘72.

Richard Roundtree (the actor who played Shaft) and Carla, c. 1971.

Ford Modeling Agency postcard for Carla, c. 1971.

Ford Modeling Agency postcard for Carla, c. 1971.