Drawings & Sculpture (New York Subway Story) (Ellen Grossman Meets Jay-Z)

ellen grossman1

grosman JAY Z

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(2-11 Elucidation (detail), 2011) and (1-4 Foldover/Green, 2010)

I wasn’t going to bother with the Jay-Z on the subway story, because, at first I thought, it didn’t interest me. But Ellen Grossman? She is totally winning, and so, it turns out, is Jay-Z. Check out the video recording their encounter and the accompanying story at the Guardian.

It’s a New York story, both untypical, because of all the fame and the hype, and also typical, at least in the setting up of a chance encounter between different kinds of people in an active urban space. In the video, I especially like the sense of confusion on Grossman’s part followed by the coming to recognition.

And the story goes on. As it turns out, Grossman is herself an accomplished artist. Make sure to check out the drawing and sculptures at her website. I like these images a lot, especially the “small drawings.” The works are line-based. The vibe is elemental and kinetic. Full of looping loops and mapped out patterned folds, the drawings read nomadically, like a thought sequence by Delueze, even as the setting proves more urban.

Here’s part of the artist’s description of a body of work and her artist’s statement, both on view at her very cool website:

These drawings and sculptures are a response to topographic maps, satellite photos, scanning electron microscope images, astronomy and the unfolding of intertwined relationships. They emphasize the sensuous aspects of water currents, land masses and the wind made visible.  Much of my sculpture developed from an attraction to moiré patterns created by the overlay of two or more grids that are slightly askew


Drawings and sculptures of topographic surfaces. 

The drawings evoke tactile sensation and fluidity. The flows, folds, ripples and crosscurrents build up, suggesting what is common to water currents, the wind, geologic change and biological life.

Time flows, at times seeming to drag or surge, so I began to record the date, hour and minute at the start and end of each line. This record of how long each line takes to make has evolved into notation of subtotals for each day, as well as a running total. This can be daunting and that’s part of the point.

As in science recording observations can alter results. Written numbers build up, forcing the lines to fan out, becoming part of the texture, radically affecting how the drawings look.

Much of my sculpture developed from an attraction to moiré patterns created by the overlay of 2 grids that are slightly askew. Changing the lighting and angle of view reveal different patterns: ranging from transparency to reflective opacity.

I live in New York City, near Tompkins Square Park, where I would often walk my dog in the pre dawn hours. My attention to peripheral vision was heightened by awareness of possible danger beyond the street lights. Frequently I would perceive motion out of the corner of my eye, but when I stopped to look directly, nothing would be there, as if someone had disappeared into the shadows. This peripheral phenomenon seemed to vibrate and visually hover about a foot or two in front of the park fences. The phenomena unnerved me until I realized that I had seen shifting moiré patterns caused by my quick pace beside two parallel chain link fences.

With this knowledge, my reaction to the moiré phenomena transitioned from fear to understanding. With understanding came relief from fear and then fascination with the moiré patterns.

Traditional Japanese screens sometimes contain people, animals or moving water that seem to gaze, leap or flow through the real spaces between angled panels: violating the frame.

My response was to build a cross between folding screens and pop-up books, playing on permeability, embeddedness and context. When constructing them, I installed the three dimensional elements into the folding screens with the screens in the open position. I expected the surface to be crushed when folded and to pop back up looking crumpled, surprisingly, they swell back up uncrushed.


In parks permanent curves are formed where people have habitually leaned into the fences for support while watching sports or just hanging out. This generally registers as damage but I see it as beautiful. There is a visceral quality in the way the fence echoes the contours of the human body.

Chain link fences signify exclusion or confinement. I’ve been constructing models using small scale spiral mesh that is made in much the same way as chain link fence. My objective is to make full scale walk-in sculptures that lessen emotional reactions to this austere material, while allowing us to process and accept complex and difficult associations with fenced areas.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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