Detroit-based artist Ellen Rutt was invited by hotel curator Kimia Kline to the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, NY to create a mural installation in their lobby for this winter season. The Wythe Hotel regularly showcases artists with rotating public exhibitions in addition to the artwork of their permanent collection featured in their river-front view rooms. PLAYGROUND had the pleasure of introducing Kline to Rutt’s work during Kline’s stay in Detroit for a residency program through the New York Foundation of the Arts in partnership with Wayne State University. Kimia Kline will have an exhibition at the University’s large bi-level Elaine L. Jacob Gallery opening April 8th.

The synergy created between artists from one city to the other is critical in the development of Detroit’s growing art community and its creators; apparent by visiting artists’ reactions. “New York is full of galleries, museums, project spaces, and hosts international art fairs every year, so the amount of work you’re exposed to as an artist living and working here is vast,” notes Kline to NYFA. She realizes there are negatives and positives to both the creative community structures of Detroit and NYC:

“While we have so much access to so many different things in New York, sometimes it’s overwhelming and becomes difficult to feel any traction in your career as an emerging artist. Detroit’s smaller scale might be limiting at times, but artists seem to have the time and space and exposure to nurture new and exciting work, particularly at the early stages of their careers.”

PLAYGROUND documented and interviewed Rutt during her experience of installing the winter-wonderland 3-D mural in the Wythe Hotel.

Have you worked in New York City before? 

This was my first time working in NYC! I used to go to a lot of Bar Mitzvahs in New York; but haven’t spent much time there since an awkward period of my adolescence, when my body was the shape and color of a ripe tomato. When I was in college in Ann Arbor I helped start a vintage clothing company with two friends. They’ve moved to New York and now host vintage pop-up shops all over Manhattan. I visited them a few years ago but haven’t had the opportunity to return until now!

Why is it beneficial to you to show your work there?

NYC- and more specifically the Wythe Hotel- has considerably more foot traffic than most places in Detroit; both because of the sheer quantity of people and that it’s just such a walk-able city. It’s exciting to know that so many people will see my work because it’s positioned in a prime location that draws a lot of attention! I can definitely see why people like to draw the comparison between NYC and Detroit; the two cities share a grittiness and energy that seduces creative types. Brooklyn has more people. Detroit has more space.

How was your experience installing the mural at the Wythe Hotel?

I’m lucky enough that when I told my friends about the project, not only did they decide to road trip with me to New York, but they also wanted to help install the mural. They are all super creative people [collectively known as Thing Thing] and we’ve worked together before, so it was just came together easily. We basically camped out at the hotel for two straight days working.  I always enjoy fully immersive projects. The hotel staff was incredibly flexible with us- even when I unloaded eight huge boxes of foam core shapes into their lobby.

What was your inspiration for the mural?

Snow days! I wanted to create a mural that had an energetic, friendly quality and very loosely resembled a strange and magical snow pile in which no two shapes were the same. There is a fluffy dimensional quality to it. There could be no better place to spend a snow day than snuggled up at the Wythe Hotel! The irony, of course, is that this is the warmest winter we’ve had in years, so this symbolic snow day may be the only one we get, but who knows!

How did the mural become dimensional?

Becoming close friends with several Detroit-based experimental architects has reinforced my interest in bringing 2-D work into the 3-D space. A year ago, I was working as an art director at a large ad agency and started collecting large sheets of foam core that people would throw away after presentations. Foam core is surprisingly expensive, and I already have a natural inclination to hoard art supplies so I just started taking it. I used some of it for a window installation I did last year for SXSW in Austin and was looking for an opportunity to create a 3-D mural of sorts. The Wythe was very receptive to the idea. For me, it adds an unexpected texture to the wall. It’s not fully a sculpture, not fully a painting; it creates a subtle sense of depth. Also, there’s an amazing Frank Stella retrospective exhibit up at the Whitney right now, so perhaps a bit of this project is an homage to him.

Tell us about a little bit about yourself and your style.

My art is usually colorful, bold, mixed-media painting. Although I do graphic design, installations and murals as well. My process involves a combination of digital and hand-made techniques. Recently I’ve been exploring patterns/power of repetition, both symbolically (how patterns and habits inform/shape our lives and behaviors) and visually (how quantities and accumulation of repeated forms create new impressions.) Conceptually, I’m also interested in the duality of physical and virtual realities, how the presence of digital culture influences our perception of self, and of art/life.

FOLLOW her work at @ellenrutt

Photos courtesy Jordana Longo and Alisha Siegal