Global Track: Street Artist ELLE Brings Tropical Vibes to New York's Urban Jungle

ELLE brings the explosion of color and nature she witnessed in Hawaii to the city streets.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Global Track is our bi-weekly street art column by Rhiannon Platt.

With the humidity reaching unbearable levels in New York this summer, tropical plants seem to be springing from the streets’ cracks. Following a recent trip to Hawaii, street artistELLE brought the tropical climate’s flora back to New York’s urban streets. Filled with blossoming flowers, like Birds of Paradise, ELLE's wheatpastes add life to the surrounding brick walls and doors.

ELLE said of her exotic pieces, “Ultimately, continuing this work in NY is just nostalgia and wishing I was still on the beach and lost in the jungle!” Paired with her usual pastel palette, these images are bright enough to grab viewers’ attention from a distance, marked by not only their color, but their visibility.

Typically, ELLE's work features strong female figures, usually including her own portrait. For her new series, sometimes these heroines appear amidst layers of foliage. In a majority of these compositions, the warriors are absent, and, instead, Hawaii’s natural plants take the foreground.

“The new tropical tip I'm on was actually more of an accident," said ELLE. "I was struck by a pure inspirational wave that hit me when I was in Oahu recently. I went out to spend time with my little sister, and we were in heaven, hiking botanical forests and seeing the incredible fluorescent colors that I normally use in my work actually existing in nature.”

Since her short time back in New York, ELLE's work in the streets has revealed the importance of this vacation. However, the artist points to an earlier mural as the impetus of the project. 

While painting the exterior of Urban Nation for an exhibition, ELLE began experimenting with collage in her installation. Since the show featured New York artists in Berlin, she “wanted to create something fun and colorful and sexy and dangerous—a little slice of my world.” ELLE created seven self-portraits, with the colors highlighting the figures and the collage covering the background. In the months that have followed, these ideas have come to the forefront of ELLE's stylistic experiments.

ELLE is never one to stick with a single medium, focusing instead on constantly diversifying. Stickers, extinguishers, tags, rollers, fills, wheatpastes, sculptures, video installations—nothing remains out of her creative reach. Since Public Ad Campaign produced keys for Cemusa bus shelters (which street artists could use to replace bus stop advertisements with their work) through the "Public Access" project, ELLE's reach extended further to include ad replacements.

Her interests in these shelters as well as collage have inspired ELLE to create light boxes in place of ads where products once were once being pushed on commuters. The experiment also marks a first because the piece was developed with Mylar and lighting gels. When layered with photographs, the result is a mix of translucent and opaque surfaces. Once installed, the lit shelters create a stained glass effect whose vibrant colors mimic nature within the urban context of a bus shelter. 

As the summer stretches on, we can expect ELLE’s public work to expand upon her brand of tropicalism. With the duration of her trip spent hiking, sketchbook in hand, the new materials seem limitless. She has prepared piles of paintings several feet tall, which are awaiting an imminent release. Since her return, ELLE has taken advantage of the weather to continue using the streets as a canvas to challenge her artistic boundaries—that is, if she has any. The past few days have seen several new pieces released to the streets as well as a collaborative mural with Magda Love in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and these projects are only part of what ELLE has planned.

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