Park Slope

The Public Space And Privacy Of Street Artist And Neighbor ELBOW-TOE

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Her Beutiful Hands
“Her Beutiful Hands, 2006” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

The public display of artwork invites a myriad of reactions from its viewers. The development of the street artist has expanded greatly in the last 50 years. At another time, the term “graffiti” was the common terminology for the type of work placed throughout urban environments. The work done on the street nowadays is extremely diverse, and difficult to categorize — which can make the experience mysterious, cerebral, and of course extremely exciting.

You may have seen the work of neighbor and artist ELBOW-TOE throughout our neighborhood. His work is diverse both in message and medium. ELBOW-TOE has been applying gritty and striking woodcuts, stencil work, charcoal drawings, and collages onto the walls of — not only New York — but cities throughout the world.

In addition to his public work, ELBOW-TOE has a rich studio collection, in mediums including printmaking, cut portraits, and collage (however much of his street art is also executed in the studio). There is not very much known about him to the general public. We recently wrote about AINAC, a street artist who also prefers to distance his identity from his work (although, there are very different reasons as to why.)

ELBOW-TOE prefers it that way. However, we had a rare chance to hear from him about his influences, approach, and how his work developed over time.

"Divine Hammer 2" by ELBOW-TOE
“Divine Hammer” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

PSS: Thanks for talking with us. We’ve seen your work on buildings and structures throughout the neighborhood. There was a time where people used the term “graffiti” for anything on all wall. How do you describe the type of work you do that the public passes by?

ELBOW-TOE: It really depends on the work. I look at it all as art, though it is categorized as street art. My work has taken on many forms on the street over the years, most often executed in the studio and then there are the oilbar pieces which constitute a majority of what I am up to these days. I love the oilbar pieces for their honesty, and intimacy. The text and the images I draw with it are derived most often on the subways.

"Fecundity" by ELBOW-TOE
“A Study In Fecundity, 2011” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

You work in a variety of mediums. Which one did you get started in first?

I started on the streets with hand painted pieces, that focused around my moniker, ELBOW-TOE. I knew very little about street art at the time, and I assumed that it needed to be grotesque and a bit tongue in cheek.

After about six months of this type of work, I became aware of street artists such as SWOON and I realized that I did not have to make work in the vein that I had been doing. I had been a printmaker for a year, and seeing that she was able to print relief prints at home, I found my way in to making works in a method that could be reproduced.

"Loss" by ELBOW-TOE
“A Loss That Gets Lost In Translation, 2009” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

When you create these works, do you come with an idea of what you want to create, or does the public space inform your work?

It is a dance between the space and the work. I come up with an idea first and then I search and search for just the right spot. The text based works are not as reliant on the setup of the environment.

I like to use metals doors as the surface is smooth, and the doorway provides a natural frame for the work.

"Chris" by ELBOW-TOE
“Making Faces, 2009” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

Can you talk about how the approach differs between creating a public work and creating work in your studio?

My public work has taken a backseat these days to the studio work. The process is not so different, I bring the same level of attention to detail to every project I engage in. The difference is that in my studio work I consider the entire surface I am working and on the street there is quite a bit that is left up to chance, and that often surprises me after the install and over the life of a piece.

"The Center Cannot Hold" by ELBOW-TOE
“The Center Cannot Hold, 2011” by ELBOW-TOE. (Courtesy of ELBOW-TOE)

Do you have any shows or exhibits coming up that you are working on?

I am working towards my next solo show in New York.

We’ll keep you posted about ELBOW-TOE’s next solo show as we learn more information.

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