The Orange runner
The Orange runnerThe Orange runner

Street Art


In my sophomore year of college, I interned with an artist named Elbow Toe. He affected an alter ego to put up art in the streets, and I helped him with the more menial tasks of his craft. I spent hours and hours whittling away at blocks of linoleum with an exacto knife, carving out the bits of white space between his intricately cross-hatched charcoal drawings. Whenever I finished carving the block we'd coat it with ink, cover it with paper, hand-press the ink onto the paper, cut the drawing from the paper, then paste it on a wall somewhere in Gowanus or Red Hook in Brooklyn.


Elbow Toe studied at the School of Visual Arts, where I studied, too, albeit a bit less enthusiastically than he studied. He knew EVERYTHING. He knew art history-- not just the names and dates but the techniques of each artist and how to apply them. He knew physics-- how light bends through objects or atmospheres and affects colors. He knew chemistry-- how pigments and mediums mix together to create color and which concoctions age best. He could work in clay or cut paper, painting or pulling prints, he sculpted masks, made music, drew people on the subway, programmed computers, and saturated his pieces with references to myths, history, or politics. He was the closest thing I've met to a wizard.


But Elbow Toe worked in the streets. He had tried breaking into the gallery scene after college but found it exhausting-- more exhausting than a job at a bagel shop or programming code. He made art in his spare time for years until finally having an epiphany: with a recently-purchased oil bar he drew an elbow toe in a subway station and realized he didn't need galleries, curators, or patrons. He could just put his art anywhere.

So he donned a mask, affected an alter ego, set out into the streets-- sometimes carrying an oil bar with which he'd scrawl poetry or figures in doorways, sometimes carrying wallpaper paste and fresh prints of modern day Oedipuses or Icaruses-- and shared his art with the world. Eventually, he earned enough notoriety in the streets to circuitously break into the gallery scene (a lesson in circumnavigating that I would eventually unconsciously emulate by posting comics about running on social media instead of putting together an actual portfolio).

Every now and then, on my runs through Red Hook or Gowanus, I'll pass a print we pulled together, then tell the runners next to me of the time that I interned for a wizard...