Thursday, December 6, 2012

How to Make Friends: Jay-Z Meets Ellen Grossman on the MTA

 Cup(s) of the Day #115 
by Gwyneth Leech, 2012
India Ink on upcycled take-out coffee cups
In the crush of fame and adulation which hems in the rapper Jay-Z at every turn in his new video "Where I'm From", there is an unexpected oasis moment. Traveling by subway - along with a crowd of screaming fans, roadies, bodyguards, and a film crew - to the Barclays Center for the last of eight shows, he sits down next to Ellen Grossman, a friendly New Yorker who has no idea who he is.
"Are you famous?" she asks mildly, with an encouraging smile.
"Not very famous, you don't know me," he replies without a hint of irony.

"Where I'm From" Jay-Z Barclays Center Documentary
 The subway scene starts around minute 18:40.

The dialogue could just as easily have gone the other way!
Ellen Grossman is a dedicated and accomplished visual artist with some fame of her own, who deserves to be more widely known. I admit I am biased, since Ellen is a friend. However, I have the greatest respect and admiration for her artwork. Her studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is an Alladin's cave of wall reliefs, sculpture and maquettes for public artworks made from undulating layers of wire and chain link mesh. Her flat files are full of exquisite, method-based line drawings which chart long passages of time. Visit her website, and read more about her process on the blog Recession Art.

Ellen commends Jay-Z for taking the subway to his gig; "I'm proud of you," she says.
Then exchanging names, they shake hands. When she finally realizes who she is sitting next to, her face beams with unaffected delight.

Gawker describes her as an adorable old lady. Adorable, yes. Old - not at all. Ellen is full of life and working in her prime. She is getting a tidal wave of positive attention right now for her cheerful and unassuming conversation with the mystery man of music. Here's hoping that Jay-Z gets to know her better by collecting her art, and by helping her get those public sculptures realized!

This tale just goes to prove my personal theory: in New York City, to have an adventure, you just need to leave the house!

4-1 Bulge, by Ellen Grossman, 28”x 40”, Aluminum gel pen ink on black paper, 2005

4-2 Over Roll (detail), by Ellen Grossman, 28” x 40”, Aluminum gel pen ink on black paper, 2009

Several of Ellen's gorgeous drawings are currently on view in Chelsea, at Denise Bibro Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 4W, as part of "Artists from the Boros" which runs through January 5th, 2013.

The full video of Jay Z's "Where I'm From" is available online here.


  1. This is an AWESOME post, Gwyneth!! Jay Z takes the subway and of all the millions of people he could have sat next to, he sits down next to Ellen! And the video gets a million + hits, with Ellen's website and comments on her art career, her own fame, and her humility and sweetness all printed in black & white below!

    I also know Ellen personally and took a crowded train with her this summer, where I watched her sit down next to strangers, who quickly became her "new best friends!" In addition to being a remarkable artist, she truly has a way with people ... Jay Z introduces himself to her and she tells him she is proud of him for taking the subway!! I am inspired.

    Fran Beallor

  2. I met Ellen yesterday at the MAD (Museum of Art and Design) at Columbus Circle in NYC, on the 6th floor, talking to Xenobia Bailey who is artist in residence there now, and the artist recognized Ellen because of the Jay Z video! How cool is that.