“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
~ Charles de Lint
Something happens when we pause to make poetry of our lives. When we step away, even momentarily, from the cacophony all around, to hear the whispering from inside. When we slow ourselves to stillness long enough to feel the wisp of breeze flirting, or recall last night’s shudder…when we pull back far enough to notice the connections: those random moments of our days, when held gently enough, felt fiercely enough, become so much more.
INTERVIEW WITH ERIN ANDERSON
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania ~
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Connectivity, energy and emotion are such central themes throughout your work. As you move through your days, do you find you easily pick up the energy states of others?
Erin Anderson: I think we all do, it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s registered that way. I do seem to soak up the environment I’m in and I’ve had experiences where other’s negativity or being placed in a negative environment absolutely wreaked havoc with my own sense of balance. Similarly, I’ve noticed that being around people who have worked hard to foster balance in their lives can be profoundly grounding for me. I believe this dynamic affects everyone to an extent. To use a specific example: my fiancé works as a Pharmacist in a nearby hospital. He’ll often come home just feeling utterly drained. We’ve talked about how a lot of that comes from dealing with and trying to be productive in a non-supportive environment. Disregarding the obvious fact that you are surrounded by illness in a hospital, consider also that hospitals are vast, complicated entities full of inefficiencies, overworked staff, material waste, etc. It takes its toll on everyone who has to experience that environment on a daily basis. [quote]We’re all so much more connected than we realize. Our very emotional state from minute to minute can instigate change in those around us.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Do you ever feel others so strongly that it becomes overwhelming? As an artist, is it ever possible to feel, see too much?
Erin Anderson: I think the only times I can get overwhelmed are when I’m in crowded environments where there’s a lot of excitement. I feel that often with openings, especially if I’m one of the exhibiting artists. It can just be so much sensory overload all at once. I definitely appreciate a more laid back environment most of the time. I also have a tendency to get overwhelmed having other people in my workspace. I’m no hermit, but when I’m working I relish being able to work alone.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Could we all benefit by paying more attention to the non-verbal clues circulating around us? Might picking up on others’ energy be another way of understanding intuition?
Erin Anderson: It’s another dimension of understanding that adds to our perception of others, which in my opinion, can only help. Picking up energy in others or your surroundings are essential functions of intuition. The more we can intuitively know about others, the better we can understand how to interact with them and empathize with their experience. Also, the more we can understand the effects our decisions and surroundings have on our own physical state, the more we can make decisions that promote the state of being we hope to achieve. Although it’s far easier said than done.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: How does synchronicity come into play for you, both in your life and in the themes of your work?
Erin Anderson:[quote] I think synchronicities are most noticeable when we look backward. In the moment, our experiences can feel disjointed, especially when the unexpected happens. But when you stand from a higher vantage point looking backward, the individual pieces of your experience fit together with a poetic elegance that just feels right. [/quote]I get this feeling of purpose, like everything has played out the way it was meant to, and will continue to play out to lead me where I’m meant to go. That’s not to say every experience I’ve had has been roses and daffodils, leading me to the magical land of unicorns in the sky. I’ve had some experiences that have been really tough, as we’ve all had, where I would question everything and feel like I derailed somewhere along the way. It wasn’t until after the hardship had passed, that I was able to look back and see how much I grew, how much I learned. Difficult and painful experiences have tremendous value when viewed in this light. As it pertains to my artwork, the idea of synchronicity is a reminder of connectivity, the idea that we’re integral parts in a larger system.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: I am so moved by your ability to capture qualities of vulnerability, sensitivity and openness in your male subjects. Not something we see very often in portraits, although I’d love to see this so much more. Did you grow up around sensitive men?
Erin Anderson: I definitely grew up in a family that values sensitivity. The men in my family do not shy away from emotion or communication, which never struck me as unusual, because it’s all I knew. When I left home and started seeing the way other families interacted, I became aware of a broad spectrum of communication that is not always necessarily deep or meaningful. I am so lucky that my family environment supported effective communication and introspection. My mom and dad have very deeply rooted spiritual beliefs, and were always encouraging us to explore these concepts and ideas for ourselves. I was taught good communication through them and the conversations we had. I am thankful I was encouraged to be vocal about how I felt, and was encouraged to think deeply. I’m not sure everyone is pushed in that direction, but those early years helped me shape the belief system I use to experience and understand the world.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Do you feel these are qualities society might be uncomfortable nurturing?
Erin Anderson: We are socially conditioned to accept certain traits as either feminine or masculine, and when someone operates discordantly with gender expectations, there’s backlash, dissonance, and shame. In our society, the concepts of sensitivity and communication are stereotypically attributed to women more than men. It’s unfortunate for men who are raised with the notion that to be sensitive is to be weak. How damaging that message is to a young person, especially one who may be inherently sensitive. [quote]Men have just as much inner complexity as women. Their complexity and their life experience are subjects far more interesting to me than idealized masculinity.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Was this piece particularly difficult for you to paint, on an emotional level?
Erin Anderson: I don’t know that it was difficult to paint, but the idea sprang from a difficult time in my life. I was in the midst of a lot of transition that I wasn’t expecting, and dealing with feelings of despair, loss and crushing failure. I won’t go into the gory details, but it was definitely one of those times of growth that came with extreme growing pains. While I was in the thick of it, experiencing the full brunt of these emotions, I kept feeling like I couldn’t see the larger purpose. Off Balance is literally how I felt at the time, and using the copper to obstruct the model’s vision was a way of saying, “I can’t get a higher perspective, I can’t see what I’m supposed to do here.”
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: I’d like to ask you about your charcoal works, which are amazing in their complexity, skill and beauty. Did working in this medium allow you to go deep in your explorations on a psychological, emotional level? Something to do perhaps with the metaphor of moving deeper into the dark?
Erin Anderson: The charcoal work was very early, when my focus was largely technique. It was a period of learning and experimenting. I looked for different ways to express my artistic focus, as well as understanding basic principles of building form and value structure. Ultimately, I sought the depth that oils can bring, as well as the dynamic of light interacting with metal throughout my portraits.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Would you be willing to share with us a little of the technical process you employ now?
Erin Anderson: I find copper to be a really challenging material to work with, which is actually part of the appeal for me. It’s been a steep learning curve, with a lot of trial and error. I use thin copper that can be purchased in bulk, and laminate it to MDF board. This allows me to work larger, and keeps the panels relatively lightweight. I paint directly onto the metal itself, and build the form gradually through several layers. Since I don’t use any gesso, my first layer is a very rough grisaille block in.
I will paint an additional two main layers in full color, and then glaze detail. After the painting has cured for a time, usually a month, although sometimes longer, I etch the design. In early work I would have everything planned out, the figure, the design, no surprises. Gradually, I grew braver and started allowing design elements to come together in a more organic way. Whereas before I would use a fine etching needle to painstakingly etch detail, now I use a rotary Dremel, and literally blast whole areas of paint away.
Though design ideas and inspirations come and go throughout the entire production of a painting, I don’t make any commitments early on. I allow myself to focus on painting the figure exclusively, and then completely switch my focus to create the etching, allowing it to develop naturally. I think there’s a little more excitement and meaning to the process when I allow myself to live dangerously.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: I pick up such a sense of play in your work, even as the subjects’ expressions are almost always intensely introspective. Do you have specific rituals or techniques you have found particularly effective in allowing your creative self to feel free and open to exploration?
Erin Anderson: I don’t know if I have rituals per se, but I always follow my gut. [quote]Like anyone, I’ve made mistakes and learned things the hard way. But I’ve always been willing to take the risk, and instead of getting caught up in the failures, I take away the lessons, and try again. If it weren’t for this process, I wouldn’t be creating the work I’m doing today.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: With all of your experience as a painter, do you ever still struggle with insecurities or fears around your work, uncertainties about where to take your explorations next?
Erin Anderson: Often. I don’t think artists ever really shake this. There is an ebb and flow to everything in life, and the same is true with art. There are days where I feel like I’m absolutely on fire and everything is going right. Conversely, there are days where I honestly think maybe the world would be better off if I threw my brushes away and took up bartending. It’s what many refer to as the “pain” in painting. I also try not to compare my work with the work of others. On the occasions that I have, I find it just breeds feelings of inadequacy. At the end of the day, what others do isn’t important with respect to what you do. [quote]Artists don’t create for others, they create for themselves, and the individual journey is what’s important. If we can create a connection to others through this practice then it comes full circle. That’s the dream.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: The greatest gift you have been given that serves you as an artist?
Erin Anderson: My intuition. I think the decisions I’ve made have always been guided by my intuition, and I’ve not regretted them. They don’t always work out the way I thought they would, but I’ve always been able to find the value in the different roads I’ve taken.
Born in 1987 in the small town of Waterville, Ohio, Erin began art lessons at age seven, learned to paint and draw by copying works of the old masters, and spent her summers drawing from life at the Toledo Museum of Art. In 2009, she earned a B.A. in Psychology and Entrepreneurship from Miami University. After graduation, she enrolled in the independent program called The Waichulis Studio, and later moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where she lives and works today. Her work has been featured in national publications as well as exhibitions throughout the U.S. She is represented by Dacia Gallery in New York.To view more of Erin Anderson’s work, please visit her website.