Elizabeth Englander Transforms Everyday Objects Into the Divine

Elizabeth Englander is the kind of New Yorker who picks up an obnoxiously bright red-orange Mud coffee cup off the sidewalk and makes it into an angel (more specifically Mud Angel, a rendition of a headless kneeling Bernini sculpture). She is also the kind of New Yorker who lives by the ocean (Englander’s studio and apartment are located in Red Hook, Brooklyn), perhaps the result of an up-bringing in coastal Massachusetts.

The 33-year-old sculptor started out as a painter in college, and the romantic impulse of that first practice now bleeds into her vivid, symbol-laden sculptures, which leverage found materials, a fondness for toys, and a dedication to MacGyvering new ways for others to see the beauty and meaning in everyday objects. There also happens to be a spiritual kink to the work. “Do you know what material religion is?” Englander asks me. This new-wave, scholarly approach to studying religious practices based on their ritual objects encouraged Englander to research an idiosyncratic mix of subjects, ranging from the Catholic deification of St. Anthony to the intricacies of yantras (coded tantric meditation maps). This past spring, the artist debuted a series of multicolored crucifixes at Theta gallery in New York, fashioning the icon of Jesus-on-the-Cross out of used bikinis that she pinched from an artist residency in France. Over the summer, Englander produced a series of larger crucifixes made of more used bikinis and wire mesh for a number of group shows in Los Angeles. One involved a pregnant-looking figure with outstretched arms and an orb of tiny figures at its stomach (the piece also comes with an optional cowboy hat).

Currently, Englander’s studio resembles a toy box with plastic doll limbs and scattered wooden blocks. These are the ingredients, yet to be constructed, for a solo show this spring at Theta. “Did you know that before Buddhists would cut down trees for sculptures they would entreat the spirits already living in the wood to vacate them,” she tells me. Materials have past lives that aren’t always apparent. Englander is intent on bringing the baggage to the surface.


Photography Assistant: Matchull Summers