The Heroine’s Journey of Robyn Ellenbogen

What is the best thing I love about my work? When I was in kindergarten I vowed to be an artist when I grew up! This vow helped me get through many difficult times. The evolution of making a vow is a remarkable process and continues to inform my work and yet the power of love continues in my everyday work through my engagement with materials and my experience of being alive.

What is my idea of perfect happiness? I practice Zen Buddhism and my understanding of perfect happiness begins with the awareness of the roots of suffering. Buddhism acknowledges all forms of human suffering while indicating this is a first step on the path to freedom and happiness.

What is my greatest fear? During the Bay of Pigs crisis, I slept under my bed for many weeks. The threat of nuclear war shakes me to the core. Since the election I have been exploring this fear through a series of textile works incorporating images from nuclear blasts, molecular biology, drawing and embroidery. The body of work is entitled, “Leviathan,” denoting a thing that is large and powerful.

What is the trait that I most deplore about myself? Catching myself in the throes of judgment, greed or jealousy, cause me extreme discomfort.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? Robert Irwin for his ongoing engagement with human perception and Carmen Herrera for the moxie it took to go so many years without recognition of her work. She is over one hundred years old and still making beautiful work.

What is my greatest extravagance? I have never met a pen that I didn’t like!

On what occasion would I lie? If I thought that withholding truth would be a benefit.

What is the thing I dislike the most in my work? As a practicing studio artist, I find the administrative details involving documentation, record keeping tedious.

When and where was I the happiest in my work? There are two important sites that give me great joy in terms of my artistic practice. I have a wonderful studio that borders a bamboo forest and this serves as a happy refuge. Additionally, I am an artist in residence at many hospitals where I work with chronically ill and dying children, young adults and their families. This world normalizes the insanity of everything that is happening today.

If I could what would I change about myself? I am said to be stubborn by the people I live with however this is difficult for me to see.

What is my greatest achievement in my work? I kept the vow I made as a child and continue to go to my studio every day.

Where would I most like to live? Barcelona and Tuscany come to mind.

What is my most treasured possession? A small carved jade pendant of Kuan-Yin, a bodhisattva associated with compassion. The name Kuan-Yin means the one who perceives the cries of the world. I bought it for my mom on of my first solo outings to N.Y.’s Greenwich Village when I was a kid.

What is my most marked characteristic? My willingness to improvise and dance wildly in the twilight in a nearby graveyard.

What is my most inspirational location in my city? On the bay side of the Sandy Hook peninsula in N.J. there is a series of jagged beach areas abundant with sea glass, driftwood, and assorted refuse turned by the sea. I walk these trails with my daughter exploring, collecting and dreaming together.

What is my favorite place to eat and drink in my city? My favorite place puts me at a bar overlooking any body of water with a vodka martini in hand.

What books influenced my life and how? Jane Austen’s work helped me understand human behavior when I was growing up. It seems I had a blind spot when trying to understand human relationships! Reading MerleauPonty’s writings on phenomenology helped shake up preconceived notions of how we see and inspired my interest in human perception. Kandinsky’s “concerning the Spiritual in Art” helped me locate a feeling for the immense power of making art. Simone Weil’s “Gravity and Grace,” helped me through personal difficulties.

Who are my favorite writers? Past, Present and Future Voices that speak to me; Dylan, e.e.cummings, Patti Smith, Walt Whitman, Leonard Cohen, Oscar Wilde,the Transcendentalists, the Beats, the Bronte sisters, Henri Michaux, Gertrude Stein, T.S.Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Eihei Dogen, Paul Celan, Alice Notley, Samuel Beckett, John Berger

You Only Die Twice. What music would I listen to on my last day? George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, music that resonates from my formative years and reaches out from the past illuminating the moment with emotion.

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction? Jane Eyre represented a world of feminine courage, honesty and generosity of spirit. Alice in Wonderland pointed the way to imagination and curiosity.

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? The children and young adults that I work with in hospitals are my heroes. When we work together, I feel as though I am coursing the bottom of the deepest ocean and have developed an amoeba-like practice with the children, moving together, making art from the inside out.

Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime? A must see for every artist is Fellini’s 8 ½ and La Strada. Stories about an artist in search of his content and the sublime love story of a fool’s awakening to her own heart and the joy of music.

What role plays art in my life and work? Art has helped me touch upon my deepest feelings for human embodiment, sensory experience and

Who are my greatest fan, sponsor, and partner in crime? My mom encouraged me to make art and has appreciated my work every single moment of her life. My husband has consistently been at my side with helping hands. The people I work with in hospitals are my partners in crime, willing to push aside rules and regulations in order to better serve their patients through compassion while making art.

Whom would I like to work with in 2017? I am looking forward to continued collaborations with medical labs and new experiments in the world of Butoh.

Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2017? I dream of having tea with Richard Tuttle.

What project, in 2017, am I looking forward to working on? I am finishing several animations, which reflect my ongoing love for poetry and molecular imaging.

Where can you see my work in 2017? My bamboo slip books may be seen at Central Booking Gallery and animations are available on Vimeo.

What do the words ”Passion Never Retires” mean to me? Artists do not retire! I recently read a quotation by Hokusai that he threw out everything he did before he was 60 years old. How wonderful to consider this possibility in a culture that celebrates youth!

Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? Paula Overbay!

I invite you to look further and see my work at Website Instagram robynellenbogen Facebook Vimeo Central Booking Gallery Artworks, The Naomi Cohain Foundation


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