December 19, 2016
Jewelry + Metals grad makes sensitivity sensational
By John Campanelli
Growing up, Elliott Marti’s emotions sometimes became too much and spilled out in difficult ways. His Little League team lost a championship, and Marti wailed, screamed, and threw equipment, causing a scene.
A few years later, the anticipation and excitement surrounding his birthday party turned quickly to darkness with he realized the special day – and childhood itself — would soon end. “I started crying,” he remembers. “I didn’t even want my presents.”
He was often struggling to reconcile the ideal version of life in his mind with the less-than-ideal reality of the modern world. His parents sent him to a psychiatrist, but while sensitivity can be dulled or masked, it cannot be switched off. And who’s to say it’s some sort of curse? Perhaps, for Marti, it’s been a blessing.
Over the years, he has begun to channel that sensitivity. As a new graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art with a bachelor of fine arts degree in Jewelry + Metals, he is coming into his own, both as an artist and a human being. His thinking and maturity put him in “a special category of students,” says Matthew Hollern, a CIA professor of Jewelry + Metals.
“I would put Elliott in the top five students I've ever worked with,” Hollern says. “He is a special graduate of our department, and I think he will be a special graduate of the institute.”
But it has taken some doing.
About halfway through high school, he began to unravel. He’d always been an excellent student, especially in math, but he started skipping calculus and his grades dipped. In his middle-class suburb of Milwaukee, the expectations were traditional— “regular college,” as Marti calls it, and then a regular job.
Always an excellent artist, he remembers seeking a more practical outlet for his artistic passions. He shadowed an architect for a day in high school. “It was mostly working with clients and trying to make a budget,” he remembers. “I didn’t see any actual creating going on, no physical experimentation, no play.”
He began caring less and less about what others thought of him, about fitting in socially, about following that regular path to that regular job.
Although it might have seemed to classmates that he was slacking off or giving up, this was no resignation. He was finally listening to something inside.
“I wasn’t giving up,” Marti says, “I was giving in to something. I was like, ‘I’m going to art school.’ I wasn’t going to be normal, and I [knew I] should stop trying to be normal,” Marti says.
Marti almost didn’t come to Cleveland. He considered art schools in Columbus, Detroit and his hometown of Milwaukee. They gave great sales pitches. “Everyone else was trying to woo me,” he remembers.
During his visit here, the pitch was more blunt. CIA has great faculty, his campus representative told him. That should be the most important consideration. When told about the other schools’ offers, the rep told him “you get what you pay for.”
Marti was intrigued and decided CIA was the place for him.
Initially, he wanted to study industrial design. But during an elective course during his sophomore year, he got an assignment to create a wire frame in Jewelry + Metals. “I came in here and just started bending wire and soldering wire,” he remembers. “I was really good at it. I was able to make this huge elaborate form, pretty smoothly. It was cool. I enjoyed it.”
The experience helped him realize something crucial about his makeup as an artist: He needed more than two dimensions.
“I was always known for being able to draw better than anyone,” Marti says. “But it was never actually easy for me to draw. It would just be me sitting there and erasing over and over again and fine-tuning until it was good. … It exhausts me.”
Working with his hands - cutting, polishing, tooling, shaping, bending, stitching, pouring, whatever – is different. “It’s the tactility,” he says. “It’s meditative. It definitely soothes me.”
After the wire project and positive interactions with Jewelry + Metals students and faculty, Marti joined the program.
He began growing out his hair.
It’s now past his shoulders. His locks, and a less-established beard, give him the striking looks of a young man who might be ready to meet you outside the saloon at high noon. They belie the thoughtfulness inside.
Marti has added leatherwork to the metals work, creating pieces and objects – some resembling grown-up versions of infant toys — that beckon viewers to pick them up and explore their tactile surprises.
He embraced CIA’s cutting-edge technological tools as well.
His leather bags are fastened with beautifully polished aluminum pieces cast from molds created with 3D printers and Rhino design software. If he’s off campus, you can often find Marti at the think[box] maker space at Case Western Reserve University, putting leather under a laser.
“Elliott worked to reinvent leatherwork by using laser engraving, which is essentially burning a pattern into the surface of leather,” says Hollern. “He's gotten really good at it. He’s come up with a few techniques and some aesthetic values that we haven't really seen before.”
Hollern calls Marti a “nice hybrid,” able to move freely from contemporary to traditional, not only with tools but with his artwork as well.
“We can be a part of the technological avant-garde,” Hollern says. “We can be among the pioneers trying these new techniques and materials and ways of making things.”
As Marti moves away from school and into the professional world, he still turns over some of the issues that have been dogging him since Little League: How can he live an artist’s life, a life of emotional depth, in a culture that celebrates superficiality, consumerism and mindless distractions? His years of at CIA have led him closer to a resolution.
Much of Marti’s thesis book (Hollern calls it one of the best he’s ever read) explores the quest for this equilibrium. Marti relishes the irony that he is finding artistic fulfillment and expression by creating magnificently crafted leather bags – the very symbols of superficial status and consumption.
“It is a representation of myself, both existing within a society of immediate gratification while simultaneously being able to recognize it and be OK with it,” he says.
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