I left work feeling I needed to write, my head was crowded. It was a beautiful late summer evening or maybe early autumn and I arrived at Pratt early and sat on a bench in the sculpture garden waiting. I asked a young man where Nancy Grossman was speaking and he pointed to the building right behind us. “Are you a student?” he asked me and I said, no, I’m the public. He laughed and told me that’s the best thing he’d heard, I think he was an organizer and was glad non-associated bodies were showing up.
There was still time before the start and I felt stirred by the wind and by the pink-clouded sunset, by the sculptures beneath oak trees and the old brick and stone buildings of the college. I wrote a tiny poem about geometry and the space between impressions and then I went inside wondering what I’d find:
An auditorium loosely filled, lights hanging in metal braces, two empty armchairs on a stage. I didn’t know the work or the man interviewing her, a professor at Pratt, an artist himself, a friend of Nancy’s. They use to have brunch in 1989 at a place on 13th street, I was born that year, now I know 13th street better than some of the streets from my childhood. His name was Robert I think and he kept trying to bring Nancy around to talking about her artwork but she mostly loitered amongst memories of being a young, broke artist in the village, illustrating children’s textbooks to make ends meet. They played a clip of an interview she’d done years before where she says art because I could never communicate with words. So I don’t know what Robert expected she’d say regarding her artistic intent but I was happy with what we got, a tiny eccentric lady with frizzy hair and leather pants conjuring a long-lost world, a slightly romantic one, a 1960’s New York City and a young artist salvaging ingredients from the streets, wood and zippers, leather and pieces of metal; a girl who was broke and lived in an apartment that was more like a subway car, she slept on a cot; the first sculptures she’d sold she delivered to a dealer on Madison Avenue in shopping bags, with a painting tucked beneath her arm for good measure. She said the best part of being an artist “is the whole energy and excitement when you’re in it, this constitutes everything.”
They showed her most famous works: leather heads covered in zippers and straps, terrifying gimped nightmares, I’ve not seen them in person but felt frightened just from the slides, a very visceral impression. He tries to get her to talk about their origin but she maneuvers away from the question, mentions depression briefly, not elaborating. I cannot blame her, hadn’t she just told us that her art comes from an experiential immersion in her craft? These are terrifying visages, trapped and tortured beings, would you have a woman so small reenter the worlds in which they were born, right here on stage in front of strangers? Don’t you think they’ve come out of her for a reason?
She tells us advice given to her early on in her career from an artist already established: you make one and then you make another. And I think, how liberating, I will write this and then it will be gone and I’ll have room for another. In the meantime it is good to know I am not the only one who has been so broke he has more hole than shoe. Were I so bold, I’d ask if there were a stage for me somewhere in the future.