By VICTOR SLEDGE November 15, 2023
In a world where artificial intelligence (AI) lets you be whatever you want, Ellie Pritts has embodied such potential to inspiring heights.
Pritts is an LA-based artist that uses AI and other cutting-edge technology alongside obsolete hardware to create art that expands both her physical and creative horizons.
Pritts lives with a degenerative neurological condition, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The condition has slowly created limitations for how she creates art, and, at one point, what forms of art she was able to create.
For example, Pritts spent years as a cellist. But as CMT is a disease that can cause sensory and motor difficulties in the hands, she was eventually forced to pivot away from that. The same issues would start to impact how long Pritts could hold a pencil to draw.
However, while the condition may be causing physical boundaries for Pritts, she has also freed herself by innovatively finding many other creative avenues to circumvent CMT.
“It’s been a lifelong, gradual loss of ability, which is fortunate in some ways and challenging in others. It meant that I got to spend a great deal of time in denial of what was reality,” she says.
Little did she know, before AI started to impact art-making in the way it has in the last few years, her relationship with reality and her commitment to following (and influencing) how it changes would become one of the trademarks of her artistry in unexpected ways.
Ultimately, Pritts’s work questions the world around her. She negotiates reality through distortions, discolorations and disruptions using AI and other new and innovative technologies, as well as rendering imagery through circuit bent hardware or aged televisions. With Pritts’s work, imagination actually comes to life and manifests in the real world.
As Pritts was coming to terms with her CMT, it’s understandable how the condition could have felt like the end to so many artistic pathways for her. With AI, though, she realized these pathways weren’t at an end. They were just leading to a new start.
“The timing of my introduction to AI as a powerful creative tool was almost perfectly timed with the crux of me getting all of the medical care I needed to get a diagnosis,” she says. “It got me through what would have otherwise been one of the darkest times of my life.”
It’s not always easy to see a change as big as AI coming and recognize how valuable it will be in one’s own practice. But Pritts let those changes roll in with open arms.
“It became so powerful so quickly that by the end of 2021, it was on the precipice of being massive, and I sensed that there was promise there,” she remembers.
And as she began to discover how AI could live in tandem with her more traditional work, her signature blend of these two entities was born.
Now, not only has AI led Pritts to more possibilities in forms of art she once practiced regularly, like music, but it’s reintroduced more varied and innovative ways to create that art.
“I’m interested in merging these two experiences, and I’m excited to play with new mediums and work with AI in ways that are unexpected,” she says.
For example, she may not be able to keep up the stamina she once commanded with the cello, but now she’s able to use AI and other technologies to make music with her voice using years’ worth of her past recordings. In a similar way, while pencil to paper may be a taxing way for her to create self-portraits, using her photography and AI has created a whole new reality for how she is able to realize her own image.
The beauty of how Pritts has grown with the changes of AI is that she has used them as opportunities to revisit pieces of herself from the past and reimagine them with AI and within her own current creative direction. In this way, nothing is set in stone for a Pritts artwork yet it is always rooted in the deeply personal.
Since she started heavily using AI in the last few years, she’s gone back to past works and given them new life with the ever-expanding tools at her disposal today. It’s especially fulfilling to her, she explains, because it’s reinvigorated pieces from years ago that maybe didn’t get as much traction as she would have liked when she first completed them. Even further, the pieces now have grown into themselves in ways she could only dream of before AI became such a huge aspect of her practice.
“Now I can actually do what I was always dreaming to do. So it’s an exciting and empowering feeling to go back and weave those yarns from the past,” she says.
And that’s an empowerment she hopes other people will find through her work as well. Pritts’s work reveals such an intimate connection to self. Whether it be looking at past works and collaborating with her creative ideas from that time or using AI to create new versions of herself in more recent self-portraits, Pritts recognizes what an illustrative, envisioning tool AI can be. Pritts carries a connection to self that has reimagined her life and her art time and time again.
“It opens my mind to different possibilities. You’re getting to see yourself in different versions of what you could be,” she says.
Pritts didn’t always feel as comfortable sitting with herself and the world around her as she does now, and she appreciates how her art and AI has helped her grow into the confidence she carries today. Between the natural challenges of growing up and navigating her condition, it’s easy to see how Pritts could feel a sort of disconnect with herself and her environment at one point. However, particularly during the onset of the pandemic, she started to settle more into herself as the world forced us into our own company.
“The stir craziness of quarantine was the perfect cocktail to push me over the edge and bridge that gap,” she explains. “It’s not possible to live through an experience like that and not have it affect you. It gave me the time, space and isolation to deeply process things.”
Pritts also started to find herself in nature, somewhat self-isolating with her physical work and the help of AI. That eventually brought attention to the world around her and how she’s situated in it, which has helped her grow into the artist she is today.
“Using these tools and expressing myself in this way allows me to not be an ‘other,’” she says. “It’s really important for people to have a direct connection to themselves, and what I’m trying to do is get people to think like that."
While you may not guess it from her self-actualized work now, Pritts wasn’t always comfortable making herself a focal point in her work.
“When you put yourself out there so directly, for some reason, it invites other people to say whatever they want, and it can be polarizing,” she says.
Naturally, work that revolves around the artist means that the critiques and opinions about the art itself starts to feel more personal. For Pritts, though, she’s worked on thinking of herself less as the subject of her work and more as a lens through which to see it. And that’s helped her manage her reaction to these sometimes difficult comments and critiques she’s received over the years.
“I’m using myself as a vessel more so than putting the spotlight on myself,” she explains, “There’s a really great balance as an artist that you’re trying to achieve: the balance of your ego. I saw that as a challenge to myself.”
As an artist, balancing her ego has also meant that Pritts is able to ebb and flow through her creative endeavors however and whenever they may come. Along with the release she had to give way to as her condition progressed, growing into herself and letting go of the ego that’s inherent to being an artist has helped her become more clear and forthright about identifying where it is she’s being led creatively and committing fully to that direction.
“I spent several years compromising, and it wasn’t until the last ten years or so as I’ve gotten more successful and comfortable in my own skin that I worked on that ability to do what I want when I want to do it,” she says.
Even in the face of whatever personal critiques she may encounter, the changes that may come with CMT or the ever-evolving changes in AI, Pritts’s third eye is open to her path, wherever it may lead.
“I feel like there’s a creative magnet inside of me. It drags me in certain directions, and I just follow it,” she says.
Through photography, illustrations, paintings, animations and now even moving into the fashion world, Pritts doesn’t believe in limits for art-making or for the world around her. She’s followed this conviction to higher heights the longer her career has persisted, and the constant winds of change she rides are only lifting her higher.
To learn more about Ellie Pritts, please visit www.elliepritts.com WM
Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia. He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic.