Utilising social media channels, Stephen Ellcock has become a cult figure in the art world. Collecting images from all corners of the globe, his Facebook and Instagram have become a place of discovery and anticipation for many thousands of people.
Filled with the kind of oddities you’d expect to occupy the dusty pages of books and posters in an antique shop, Ellcock presents a multitude of endearing images in a crisp digital display, ready for a contemporary audience who are used to such luxuries. Having said that, the images have such originality and are filled with such folkloric allegory that you do not feel you have been mollycoddled into seeing the old as the new - these are very clearly remnants from distant times and places and you are on the journey with him.
Where one may easily stumble upon his page through the legion of followers he has online sharing the content, the process of leaving his page is far less simple. Just as a child you’d play ‘one more game’ or for ‘one more life’, you’ll promise yourself - twenty years on from those earlier lies - that you’ll only look at a few more posts. Hours later, you’ll be on Wikipedia researching ancient astronomical signs and religious iconography of long-gone civilisations.
This feeling of going somewhere and not knowing what to expect means that Ellcock’s social media zigs where most are zagging. It’s commonplace to have certain expectations on social media now. Like Kim Kardashian, whose posts are always ‘on-brand’, an air of repetition has permeated our digital experience. The only certainty in Ellcock’s pages is that you can be 100% certain you won’t guess what comes next.
In what appears to be a love letter to archaic forms of art, his feed is chock-full of mythology and symbolism that carry with them a kind of unsettling aura - sort of like looking at a mood board for a surrealist film that was never made in a time that film was just an emerging artform.
Publishing public domain images, that is images free of copyright, Ellcock has tapped into a collective history of esoteric curiosities that nobody has laid claim to. The freedom of these images makes them all the more marvellous - especially considering that they’d be as good as hidden without people like him.
Over the last few months, with museums being closed down globally, the digital has replaced the physical for the time being. Some museum spaces have adapted, but others have failed to, instead opting to lay dormant during the uncertainty. Due to the malleable nature of the online realm, Ellcock has managed to thrive, creating spaces where people can find solace in discovery during periods of wide societal isolation and closure.
A leading figure in what could be interpreted as a growing movement - those using social media to display 'lost' public domain works - Ellcock gifts his followers with spark after spark to facilitate their own research and creative processes. More than just pretty images, these are time-tested symbolic creations capable of rousing even the most uninspired individual to want to learn more, understanding that knowledge isn’t limited to art or science or any other monolithic medium, rather it can come from anywhere. Therein lies the beauty.
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