On the Record
by Eric Bishop
May 19, 2009 | 17800 views | 0 0 comments | 494 494 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ellie Balk tends to describe her art in terms of the interactions it triggers—including the unwelcome ones.

“That one yelled at me for days,” she said Sunday, gesturing at one of her paintings on display in Prospect Heights. “I ended the argument with a little blue. It calmed things down a bit.”

The 33-year-old from Clinton Hill isn’t just getting an earful from her works—she’s also inspiring interaction among people in the community, a prime example being her mural outside the Fort Greene coffee shop Tillie’s of Brooklyn. Last year she completed the mural—a circular, multicolored map representing the area and surrounding neighborhoods—with the help of a diverse array of paintbrush-wielding volunteers. The project also included opportunities for locals to drop by and paint dots on the map to represent their homes.

“I wanted to create a space where the old and the new residents could come together and celebrate that this is their home,” Balk said.

Abstract cartography has become something of a calling card for Balk. Prior to the Tillie’s mural, she’d worked with students to create map murals at several Brooklyn public schools.

“I just think it’s such a perfect image,” she said. “When people talk about where they live, they’re letting their guard down, and it’s a really good way for people to communicate and start telling stories about where they live and to get connected to each other. That’s really what the murals are all about.”

In a way, her creations are a far cry from the work she did as a graduate student at the Pratt Institute—interactive art installations composed of found objects. However, she notes that the spirit behind her early work, using art as “a tool for interaction,” remains intact.

On Saturday Balk helped students and volunteers create a multi-orbed street painting outside P.S. 67 that was loosely based on the surrounding geography. Currently, she’s finishing up a community mural at M.S. 136 in Sunset Park. A public dedication event, to feature spoken word performances by students, is scheduled for June 18.

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