Elbow Toe Creates Fictions With Little Bits of Shredded Truth

The Street Artist talks about New Collage Series, NPR, and Haiku

Heat waves shimmering
one or two inches
above the pavement.

This is New York right now. Blistering smells of bubbling soot from the street.  Like no other time of the year most of these summer streets are a haven for life and freedom. School’s finally out, few summer jobs are available, and there are more service cuts on the bus and subways.  But in this time of lowered expectations the parks are still open and the free concerts and block parties and parades hint very little at the stress that so many are under.

Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

The Brooklyn artist and poet of the streets whose moniker is Elbow Toe gets up early to “go to work” on the subway, where he rides and draws portraits of his fellow riders in a sketchbook before returning to his studio.  It’s there, in the air-conditioned underground, that he wakes up and re-connects to his city, loosening up the lines so that they can wend and bend freely, and jotting a little text as it manifests.

His impressive body of work continues to grow and develop both on the streets and, in the last couple of years, into galleries on both coasts and across the pond. Recently kicked out of his studio (another New York artist story), he has settled in to working at home on a new collage series using ripped and shredded paper to create quite detailed pieces that from a distance look like paintings.

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BSA: How’s the new studio? Have you done any work in it yet?
Elbow Toe: The new studio is suitable. I lost the last space when the landlord got in a dispute with the owner and forced us all out. I have been in the new space for a couple of months at this point and it has seen it’s fair share of work. I am primarily working on collages.

At this point I have converted part of my residence to a studio. It is a weird mix because we don’t have any walls in our place per se. And I don’t want to ruin the floors so I had to build a wall that could balance on the floor to provide privacy yet let in some light. I have done well over a half dozen collages at this point so the space is pretty broken in. If I had one complaint it would be that I wish I was in a studio building again so that I could just shut the door at the end of the night. As it is, the pieces sort of nag away at me. Who knows, it might make them just that more intimate with my psyche.brooklyn-street-art-elbow-toe-jaime-rojo-2

She’s seen it all. Two of Elbow Toe’s figures stretch from Madonna’s eyes as Elbow Toe adds to MBW (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: What’s informing your art right now? What’s inspiring you?
Elbow Toe: I have to hold the cards for what is informing me pretty close to my chest, as I am still engrossed in working out the imagery for the show. But I can say that I spent the better part of a year working out the boundaries and technical hurdles in my approach to collage. Though I am doing some portraits still, the new works are exploring narrative frameworks. I would say that I am creating fictions with a little bit of truth.  I do my best to let my imagination play with the hopes that it know intuitively what stories I want to tell.

Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: You touch on political and social themes in your art. Are you a news junkie?
Elbow Toe: I am a news junkie. It certainly doesn’t help that I get into bouts of listening to NPR for 8 – 10 hours a day. It really makes for great light small talk in social situations, let me tell you.

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Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: What’s your best way to get news right now? Radio, TV, or internet?
Elbow Toe: I primarily stream NPR in on my computer.

BSA: What’s the environment that you like to create in your studio while you work?
Elbow Toe: When I start a piece I like the studio to be pristine. By the time I have completed the piece there is very little space to stance, and it is quite visually painful as there is basically a storm of color all over the floor. I generally get so pulled into the process that the chaos works to my advantage as I tend to know where every piece of paper is amidst the chaos. The real problem that arises is when I set my  keys down in the studio by accident.

Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: You’ve referred to classic and modern art masters in your work. Is there anybody in the current crop of contemporary artists who do you admire and with whom you would like to collaborate on a piece with?
Elbow Toe:
There are a lot of artists out there that I really admire. I am always looking. Cutting up Art Forum magazines for my collages keeps introducing new artists to me. As much as I like their work, I am really not that interested in collaborating with any of them. I prefer honing my own vision.brooklyn-street-art-elbow-toe-jaime-rojo-5

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: You are known to write a bit of poetry – what brings it forth? People on the street? Books you read? Music?
Elbow Toe: The quotes that I write around town… They tend to just well up from somewhere inside me. I go draw (in my sketchbook) on the subway in the mornings to warm up, and when I really drop into the work, they just sort of present themselves.

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Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)
Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Who is your favorite poet? What resonates about their work?
Elbow Toe: I like the Haiku masters Basho, Buson and Issa. There is such a compactness to the form. And the work is so humble.

I have been a fan of Sharon Olds for some time. There is such a vocal quality to her work. The rhythm is so strong that it completes the ideas perfectly that she is conveying. A particular favorite book of hers is The Father. Amazing.

Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

Elbow Toe (Photo © Jaime Rojo)

You can see Elbow Toe’s newest piece tonight at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in a collage based group show, “Shred”. See the press release and his piece HERE.

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