Born in Kawakawa, Ellis trained at Elam School of Fine Arts, graduating with a Diploma of Fine Art in 1964.
Her artworks explore the importance of one’s tribal kāinga (home) through expressive painted surfaces that recall landscapes and landmarks of her people. The influence of whakapapa (geneology) and wahine Māori (Māori womanhood) in shaping identity is also present in her artworks.
Ellis has served New Zealand’s arts and cultural sector for many years. She has held trustee positions with the New Zealand Arts Foundation, Creative New Zealand Council and Te Waka Toi, its Māori Arts Board. She is chair of the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery, the Toi Iho Charitable Trust and Haerewa Māori Advisory Board at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
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