NYC Sewer Drawing
Web Page of
New York City
artist Nilsen

YOU ARE @ NYC SEWER > press > A Career in the Sewer > page 1 of 2

The New York Times
A Career in the Sewer

LIKE many street artists who sell either art or "art" outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mark Nilsen is that singular blend of artist/entrepreneur who thrives in New York.

For years, Mr. Nilsen, 39, was unable to make a living as an artist. But things have turned around in the past year; he has found a profitable niche in city sewer covers.

He makes rubbings of them on location, kneeling and placing a square of canvas over the cover, then applying acrylic paint by roller so the colors take the raised detail of the cover. He sells them for about $20 each outside the Met.

"I'm making a pretty nice living doing it," he said. "It comes out to about $10 an hour, which, for a painter in New York City, is pretty good."

Mr. Nilsen has come to appreciate the fine points of the sewer cover. There's the honeycomb, the weave, the wave. And the street setting, whether cobblestone, hexagonal brick or even asphalt, lends texture to the final work.

"No two sewer caps are alike; each one is different," he said. "They're really serial sculptures, and each one has a very different feel when you paint them. Actually, you can paint the same one and it will never come out the same. Some caps still have imprints from the wood molds used to cast them. Sometimes there's a letter broken off. Look, this one has a really nice Y."


A Career in the Sewer
page 1 | 2

Browse Mark Nilsen's Galleries»
Read more about Mark Nilsen»

Mark Nilsen in "The New York Times"

Barbara Alper for
The New York Times

One day, Mark Nilsen said,
he started "really looking
at the sewer caps."

© 2000-2005 Nilsen