Street Art

Wall Sessions: Ellen Rutt in Detroit

January 18, 2018

We have been showing you all the work we have done this year with the "Wall Sessions" project with Boost Mobile, showing you works by Hellbent in Albany and Left Handed Wave in Chicago. Today, we stop in Detroit, where Ellen Rutt continues to amaze us with her abstract and playful muralism. We sat down with Rutt for an interview, where she told us about cherishing working outside, efficiency and being more mischievous.

: What's your favorite part about working in public? Do you like the interaction with people as you are painting, do you like driving by when you are done? I feel like all these years artists always give me different answers...
Ellen Rutt: I worked in a windowless cubicle at an ad agency for several years after college so now I cherish every opportunity to work outside!

Do you still remember the first mural you did?
Oh definitely. It looked like wet garbage. And not in a cool, punk rock way. It was a bunch of really drippy circle flowers that I made with a bunch of nearly empty spray paint cans I wrangled from all my friends parents garages.


How separate is your public art practice from your studio work?
My color palette and general themes remain the same, but the parameters are different. For example, it’s ok to spend months on one painting in my studio, but it’s rare that I can spend that much time on mural, so I have to consider efficiency and technique in a different way. Also, the context and scale changes everything.

If you are working on a gallery show, or paintings in general, do you like to have a mural project come up to get you outside a bit? Is it a good way to stretch your legs and sort of change the pace up a bit?
So far, It hasn’t been that intentional—I take projects as they come. Because I live in Detroit, most of the murals happen during the summer, so there’s a seasonal cycle to what I work on. I’ve been getting more and more jobs out of the state, so we’ll see if that changes.

I really cherish being alone, and sometimes have to fight for those studio days.

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What did you create for this particular mural project?
I think it’s half Rube Goldberg machine, half micro-city. In my head it animates and everything is moving and working really hard to do something totally useless.

The shapes interact like characters - they have personalities - some shapes are uptight, some are laid back, while others are sort of the only way simple shapes can be, I suppose.

I’m also reading this incredible book called, “Emergent Strategy” (explorations of our human relationship to change) and author, adrienne maree brown, talks about how transformation happens, how communities learn and evolve. It feels incredibly relevant to my experience in Detroit where development is happening so quickly. There’s one line that stood out to me in particular: “Vision is an invisible field that binds us together emerging from relationships and chaos and information.” In many ways the mural is a depiction of that idea.

What do you have coming up next?
I’m currently typing this interview from Hawai’i where I’m doing a short artist residency with an environmentally-focused art organization called Temple Children. I’ll also be showing work in Miami during Art Basel for the first time.

But, beyond that, I’m really quite excited to get back in the studio to work on some ideas for paintings, objects and experiences that are bursting out of my mind and body. On a macro-level I’m just always trying to push my work further - be more honest, and more mischievous.

Click here for all our Wall Sessions interviews!

photography by Joe Brook