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.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Take a Cab in New York City

A front of dry, unseasonably warm weather has settled over the City. I ate my lunch in Dewitt Clinton Park, on a sunny bench next to the World War I monument. The youthful soldier stands eternally poised and pensive, as if about to exit the park onto 53rd and 11th. Today I notice a bouquet of flowers tucked into the crook of his arm.

 Cup of the Day #114
"Indian Summer Taxis" view 1
 By Gwyneth Leech
India Ink on Upcycled Paper Coffee Cup

Despite Hurricane Sandy and November snow, golden leaves still cling to the trees. My coat is off. Indian Summer!
Nearby, some young dancers from the Alvin Ailey School are taking photos of themselves with an iPad as they pretend to scale the trunks.

Outside the park, yellow taxis stream by on 11th Avenue. The NYC fleet has been in the news a lot lately: new car design, rising fares (twice in quick succession), changes to the livery and now it has been decided to do away with the off-duty designation for roof lights.

We are bus and train people generally in my family, but our weekly routine does entail two taxi trips at least. The first is across town from Hell's Kitchen to our Sunday morning choral job at Saint Bart's on 50th and Park (always running too late to walk). The second journey happens every Tuesday afternoon - a rapid transition from after-school to dance class, for our nine year old daughter Grace. Invariably, the pickup falls just at snack time and we leave the school juggling coats, book bag, a piece of fruit, a container of milk and a slice of pizza on a plate. As we stand on 8th Avenue, both of us with an arm out and taxis whizzing past, I am fully aware that we are NOT an attractive proposition.

 Cup of the Day #114
"Indian Summer Taxis" view 2
 By Gwyneth Leech
India Ink on Upcycled Paper Coffee Cup

Every week, for some reason, it is the off-duty taxis that finally stop and ask where we want to go. I don't hope to understand the arcane methods of the off-duty taxi driver, but we are requesting a straight shot, 20 blocks uptown. No driver has refused us yet, despite the food.

Grace, who has Down Syndrome, loves taxis above all modes of transport. She has been confidently hailing cabs since she was three years old, and is now a connoisseur of taxi driver personality. If they can understand her directions to drop us at 67th and Broadway, engage in conversation en route, and hand her the receipt, not only does she tip generously, but she awards her highest compliment when we arrive. She leans into the front seat and announces, "I love you!" Then turning to me as we get out, she confides in a loud voice, "I am going to marry him!"

To my surprise, many a hard-boiled taxi driver calls out the window as he drives off, "I love you too!"

 Cup of the Day #114"
Indian Summer Taxis" view 3
By Gwyneth Leech
India Ink on Upcycled Paper Coffee Cup

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