Elise Engler finds art in the everyday objects of her life: the contents of her purse, her possessions, the scenes along one of the most famous streets in the world. She creates detailed images of hats, buildings, and bombs using pencil, oils, gouache.
The New York painter will bring her eye for detail to the Spokane area next week as part of the region’s Visiting Artist Lecture Series. In conjunction with her local appearances, her large drawing installation “A Year on Broadway” is on display at the EWU Downtown Student Gallery, 402 Second St., Cheney.
The work, created between May 19, 2014, and May 18, 2015, depicts every block of Broadway in Manhattan, all 252 of them, in pencil, colored pencil and gouache. The finished work is 109 feet long and 6 inches tall.
“I’ve often worked quite small,” Engler said in a recent telephone interview. The height came about partly because of portability. “It’s a good travel size,” she said, and later added, “You’re sitting on the street. I didn’t want to be intrusive. Besides, I like that people really have to get close.
“It was fun,” she said. “I wasn’t out every day, but I was out three or four times a week, and I would do a few blocks at a time.”
She also enjoyed having a reason to really look at her city.
“I know New York really well, and I know Broadway pretty well, although there were sections I knew better than others,” Engler said. “It was nice to have the excuse to really look at it and look at all the varieties of architecture and how it changes from neighborhood to neighborhood.”
Engler’s art is documentary in nature. She has created long-term projects based on a two-month residency in Antarctica, depictions of how tax dollars are spent, drawings of every single thing she owned, and visits to the Galapagos Islands. In a recent interview, she mentioned that in another life, she might have considered a journalism career. Instead, in her latest project, she’s bringing her art to the news.
“The First Radio Headline Heard of the Day” is self-explanatory. She turns on her local NPR station, WNYC, in the morning and draws something inspired by the first headline she hears. While there is some editing – she doesn’t want it to be repetitive – she said she will be interested at the end of the project to see what more than a year of headlines looks like.
Like the pieces of the Broadway project, the paintings are small – averaging 7.5 inches by 5 inches – and created with graphite, watercolor and gouache on paper. They depict David Bowie on the day his death was announced, President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba, the terrorist bombing of Brussels and the strike this week of 40,000 Verizon employees.
This is also the first project in which she’s used social media extensively. Just as she’s creating a painting a day, she’s posting those images to Twitter (@drawitall) and Instagram (msdocumentrix).
“It seems so appropriate because I’m doing something about a daily occurrence,” Engler said.
She won’t be bringing any of those works with her when she comes to Spokane. “I’ll be making them out there because I have to do it every day,” she said. “I’m trying to figure how I’m going to do it the day I have to be at the airport at 8 a.m.”
She later added, “Maybe I’ll end up doing a Spokane story. Because I think it would be fun if there’s a local story in Spokane to do.”