Elf began making art from trash seven years ago, when she lived in Los Angeles without a car. "I walked home through alleys because I always found cool stuff in the alleys," she says. One day she found an industrial-sized vent and decided to make it into an altar. She carried it home, and the altar became the first piece in her "Good and Sturdy Art" collection. Uninterested in the gallery scene, she set up an art booth at a Santa Monica flea market. "I was already selling junk there," she says. The space attracted such a strong following that she was able to quit her job as a seamstress to pursue a career as a full-time artist.
Because of the flea market's location, Elf counts numerous movie stars and film directors among her collectors. Her work showed up in a scene in Independence Day -- a movie she says she wouldn't have seen if a friend hadn't picked up a copy for her at a garage sale. "I'm very much not into slick," she says of the movie -- and of her other creative work as a folk singer. She plays a used acoustic guitar she bought for $15 six years ago, and her backup band includes "whoever's available."
Elf's self-produced album, I'm Forcing Goodness Upon You, walks such a fine line between sincerity and camp (on the cover, Elf wears a tin-can crown) that it's hard to tell whether she's serious. But the music is catchy, and listeners can easily become enticed by lyrics full of the kind of logic employed by kids who don't know how insightful their unpolluted observations really are.
On "Seamstress," one of the album's more innovative songs, percussion is provided by the sound of sewing machines. When Elf and her All-Star Seamstress Band perform at Davey's Uptown Rambler's Club on Wednesday, two seamstresses will be onstage running sewing machines at appropriate times -- though nothing will be stitched, which seems like a waste.
Using sewing machines for rhythm isn't nearly as impressive as Elf's ability to transform shards of broken car windows, which she scoops up on the Plaza, into glistening clothing for the women in her paintings. "I had been collecting broken car windows for a while when I found this one," she says, pointing to an inky broken-glass tank top. "But this was the first one I saw with that dark purply color."