My new UP&CO project space in Tribeca was barely out of the demolition stage. It apparently had similar dimensions to Ellen's Jersey studio and why not, yes, she could work there. My first show, "Generation Uscha," by Graw Böckler, was up, but we could find a wall to work on. The deal was done. The "Chelsea Breakfast Club" now also went to work, on the 1 / 9 train southbound.
I would be tapping away on my computer and be on the phone while Ellen was balancing on the ladder, drawing, drawing. The empty space was covered in dust and dirt, heating wasn't installed yet, plenty of sweaters were dug out, layers and layers. Pencil, chalk, white. Debbie Harry was our favorite. Work would occasionally be interrupted by discussions, warm up walks to the coffeeshop or dancing sessions. Those let the spirit loose, let us write happiness and peaceful productivity in playful body language. Tribeca was our hiding place. The traffic would start and stop outside on Church street.The cars and cabs created a rhythm of city existence while inside only Blondie counted.
The peace was heaven. The piece was heaven, I mean. Sculptural, round, flowing. Snow White and the prince intertwined. Kissing, making love, they were arrested in time. Still. As if actually we knew it couldn't be or couldn't last, life just wasn't like that. So then that would be reason enough to keep them there, monumentally. In reassurance and protest. A dream can be a reality.
In a circular move around our hero couple there was action, yes. Details of dreamland and fantasy for some, fairytale landscapes out of the book mixed with erotic visions. Sex meaning love, meaning ecstasy meaning forgetting about everything else. If you looked more closely, though, those live moments floating about on the canvas like sperm heading for its destination, they weren't without an edge. The odd blade hidden in the most absurd bliss.
Happiness and sadness lie so deep inside of us, they end up side by side. They touch, and are sometimes hard to separate. The duality of these emotional states also explains Ellen's two works being the necessary complement to each other. One would simply not be without the other. Without hell, no heaven. No pleasure without pain.
We went to work in the morning more like schoolgirls on their way, sandwhich in bag. Days were short. Chilly nights went by in fickle lighting. Sweater over sweater. Debbie and Debbie again. We danced. We took pictures. We stayed late. I often gave up before Ellen.
Construction on the loft was to continue. Barry, the metal expert, was working on some quotes for the new space. His eyes lit up as he walked in the door. Finding us here, or rather Ellen and her drawing, turned out to be a rare highlight of his job.
The date of the show drew closer. Pressing phone calls from London. Where were the pictures, were they ready, were they right . . . . One day it was done. Heaven was made. The trance was over, we were to resurface again, just in time.
I had not seen the first drawing in Jersey City. Early the next morning we took the PATH train out. The struggle, there it was. How many ways can a heart suffer. Idealistic romanticism versus knowing better. Life, pressure. Complexity. We looked, talked, analyzed. Eventually, it became clear to us.
Snow White was dreaming, nightmarish--realistically. Trying to find the way of her heart while walking on broken glass. In the center of the drawing, she miraculously found help in the shape of the flying prince who was to take her away . . . to the next drawing which would be bliss. Snow White, however, was so caught up in her trauma and didn't realize at all that this was help from heaven. Torn, doubting, she was holding back.
Finally, we had the solution and it seemed so simple, of course. We needed to single her out from the plots and subplots. She needed to trust. Snow White needed to go with it, believe that the right thing was happening to her, not just another evil. She had to give in, and off she would go.
She did. Her face relaxed and even received a white powdery sheen. Her thoughts became clear in her mind. "Now I know." She had decided.
Ellen Cantor's feverish search, lust for life and love takes her places. She turns herself inside out, lays it down for us analytically, expressively and symbolically, in a different media-drawings, paintings, photo and video format. She speaks an open language which, outside of her realm, is more often spoken than heard,more often pictured than seen. She uses crass reality and fantasy and turns it toward another level.
For most of us, it takes a moment to adapt, to look closer to follow the abstraction from what looks so clearly plain at first sight. Just like everywhere else, we have to learn the letters first before we can read the language.
London was exciting I heard. Troops of teenagers made Ellen's duplex work at the South London Gallery into their shrine.For them, it was a" temple" they could relate to. A solo Ellen Cantor show followed at XL in New York. Right now Ellen is painting watercolors on Christian Drantmann's walls in Brussels. Chicago will be the next stop.
Witnessing and tangentially taking part in Ellen's life, I start to wonder . . . who came first, Ellen or the fairy tale? Dealing with her own psyche and plentiful situations as "exemple par excellence" on canvas, Ellen's "real" life becomes the enacted tale. One moment she finds herself treated as Snow White, carried on hands by endless numbers of dwarves and princes, only to be ousted as Cinderella the next.