Alumnus Clove Ellis Discusses Queer and Neurodivergent Advocacy Through Art
Clove Ellis (BFA '21) is a mixed-media and installation artist who self describes as a queer, neurodivergent trans artist. Since graduating, they have built a successful business called Peachfuzzums, creating unique one-of-a-kind wearable animal ears.
Ellis started out as an environmental science student at WSU, before shifting their focus to art, which had been a passion from a young age. "I have always used art as a coping mechanism for feeling socially isolated growing up as queer, trans, and neurodivergent in an extremely cis, white, heterosexual, neurotypical community. Art was a way to express myself and cope with how out of place I felt - it has always been a huge part of my identity," they explain.
A love of wearable animal ears started in childhood, attending Renaissance Festivals. "I would see women running around with fox tails and fox ears on, and they just looked like they were having more fun than anyone else there! I always wanted to express myself in this animalistic, playful, innocent, and pure way," Ellis says. However, engaging in costuming as a form of self-expression didn't always feel safe. "Growing up, I already felt ostracized for being queer and neurodivergent. I wasn't going to put on ears and wear them to school! As I got more involved with communities that were accepting of the queer and neurodiverse, I would see people my age expressing themselves and being celebrated for that expression."
Ears Are For Hearing
Each set of ears makes a bold statement reflecting their intricate craftsmanship and attention to detail that encourages the experience of delight, surprise, wonder, and curiosity in anyone who sees them. Ellis sees a powerful personal connection in how some people respond to the ears. "People perceive me on that same scale as they do the ears that I make," he explained. "There's an immediate judgment or misunderstanding - not quite knowing what to do with this information. When strangers on the street see me, they may not know what to make of me. When people are faced with the unknown, it can often be more comfortable to avoid confronting it altogether, rather than explore with an open heart and mind. There is a getting-to-know queerness and neurodivergence. There is a getting-to-know these wearable art pieces I make, too. When you take the opportunity to connect and get curious, I've found, it's all really beautiful and complex. These ears mean different things to different people."
Ellis also describes how being neurodivergent allows them to be more versatile in exploring new creative processes. "As a neurodivergent person with ADHD, my art spans a lot of different mediums," they say. "I'm very motivated by learning new processes and problem solving. If I get really good at something, I will eventually get bored of it because I already know how to do it. Over the years I have gained experience in many mediums, but never mastery, and that's what has allowed me to be where I am today with my business."
Ellis has two favorite pairs of floppy bunny ears - or lops - he has made that best illustrate their creative process: one pair is conceptually inspired by and adorned with crystals and the other is inspired by a mermaid's tail (see figures). The making of the Crystal Lop involved trial and error around some difficult challenges, exploring the process of using vinyl sheeting and learning about adhering clingfilm to a particular type of PVC. "I don't get frustrated doing these things," they explain. "It may be a bit time consuming, but because I'm learning and growing I feel very accomplished, especially when the final product looks exactly like I envisioned." The Mermaid Lop pair was a commission, made to match a mermaid tail fabricated by another artist. This commission also posed a new and different type of challenge for Ellis, in how it required a form of reverse engineering to compliment the work of the original artist. "This was very hard for me. I procrastinated a lot on it, and I had a lot of self doubt along the way. Even when I was done, I still wasn't sure if they were good! But since posting them on Instagram, they are the most 'liked' ears I have ever made. Despite my self doubt, I feel extremely accomplished and proud of this pair. The most rewarding part of doing commissions is that I am given the opportunity to learn and grow in ways I may not have thought to on my own, because my patrons always have really innovative design ideas."
Building a Following and Finding a Community
Being out of the classroom and studio during the pandemic was ultimately the catalyst Ellis needed to create the first pair of ears. They resonated with an audience craving beauty, connection, and visibility in a difficult time. "I found some fur in my art supplies and decided, okay, today's the day that I'm going to make some ears. I made a pair and I posted them to my Instagram and Facebook. From there, my friends started asking to commission me for some. For them to say things like 'This is beautiful,' 'you are beautiful', 'please keep doing this,' 'I want some' - it was as if they were saying 'I want a little piece of what you do for myself.' I have never felt more validated or more capable of bringing other people joy. I have never felt more connected to a broader community. This has been a magical light switch for me, from people not knowing if they want to connect with me to people having a desire to connect with me - a desire to hold something that I've made because they see themselves in it. To be embraced and connected to my communities through my work is very emotional and spiritual for me."
Patrons for the lops have come largely from the cosplay, furry, alternative, kink, and sex worker communities. People who have never found themselves in alternative communities are drawn to the works, as well. Ellis has found deep acceptance and appreciation in these groups; in these contexts, the ears are metaphors for openness and compassion. "One of the most interesting things to me is that these ears show up in all these alternative spaces that, to me, have been more accepting of queer and neurodivergency than the spaces I grew up in. They also really speak to this conversation about being open minded - about hearing others, wanting to be heard, wanting to express yourself, and feeling accepted," Ellis explains.
The diversity of supporters also created an important opportunity for Ellis to thoughtfully consider how they wanted the e-commerce site to appear and be accessed. Ultimately, they decided on a restriction for customers 18 and older. "I really value autonomy, consent, and boundaries. I don't feel comfortable selling to children who are still developing their sense of those things. That's not my place to teach them, and I don't feel comfortable having my work used in their learning. Because they're used in a wide variety of communities, and that wearing them communicates different things in those different settings, I only feel comfortable selling these pieces to adults who are able to differentiate and make informed decisions," they say. "However, as a person interested in ears and art from a young age, I also support the idea of kids pursuing this medium! I strongly believe people of all ages should be encouraged to express themselves radically and be accepted for whatever that expression is."
Next Steps for Building Play
Beyond ears, Ellis has also made a large-scale, interactive space and hopes to make more in the future. The central mission guiding the development of both the ears and these spaces is simply and beautifully bringing playfulness and joy to adults. "I would love to work on large-scale interactive sculptures that engage all of the senses and allow grown adults the freedom to play in a world where they are otherwise discouraged from doing so. I think that losing our play is one of the biggest traumas that we experience, at least in American culture. Capitalism and patriarchy encourage a level of individualism and isolation that is not good for our souls, our hearts, and our mental health. For me, somatic work which reconnects the mind and body through play has allowed me to release shame, fear of judgement, and other traumas that get trapped in the body. I really want to encourage doing that healing work as a community, and for my work to empower individuals to embrace play."
To learn more about Clove Ellis and their work, visit them at: