With a butter knife Erik spreads cement on a Vovlo 240 and a dental office and turns the air thick and timeless. He is an artist based in New york, which hostess is being his main muse. He tells us about how he became an artist, his creative process, the beauty of decay and what he cares about too much to be American.
Hi Erik, how are you today?
Hi Rebecca. I'm great. So nice speaking with you today.
Where are you from and where are you based?
I've been in New York City for close to 15 years now. I'm originally from Minnesota but moved to New York for my MFA.
When did you find out that you are an artist? Have you always wanted to become one?
I was actually a musician for a few years before moving to New York, but decided that I wanted to make something more physical, something that you could still see and touch after the creative process ended, so I traded in my drums for paint and canvas. My early work was much more canvas based, but as my practice has grown I've spent more time working with cement installations and larger street poster pieces on wood. I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something creative, but it took me a few years to figure out exactly what.
Your art much embodies urban qualities such as cement which often has a look of decaying and scaling, and might act like a contradiction in terms. Why cement? Do you see it as something organic or industrial?
I think being in New York City has a lot to do with it. I'll just walk around the city and everywhere I look are decayed but super beautiful structures and buildings and streets and empty lots. From the beginning I wanted to recreate or capture this feeling of rough decayed texture, but it took me awhile to actually work with cement. At first I was mixing all sorts of stuff together to recreate the cracking and peeling, and after awhile realized that cement looks and feels much more like cement than other non-cement materials! The cement paintings are a way for me to capture or freeze this decay and the effects of time. I view the work as being industrial, but the process itself is very organic and natural.
Please explain your creative process!
The cement canvases I make in my studio. I don't use traditional painting material, so no brushes. Instead I use a butter knife to put on the material. I want the work to look natural, or accidental, so I remove my painterly hand from the process. The canvases are laid flat on the ground and basically I layer on each material with the knife. One layer might be an acrylic paste, one might be gesso, one might be paint, but when these are interspersed with the layers of cement the work cracks and peels and becomes quite beautiful. I encourage this to happen naturally, but also do allow myself to use a scrapper to scrap and knock off bits and pieces. I rely on the natural drying and cracking, but also make formal decisions as I work. The pieces look old and aged, but I control and speed up this aging process over the course of only a few weeks.
The newer street poster paintings I also make in my studio. For these I again speed up the aging process of the paper to make it look old and worn weathered. As this work is larger I use wood support, and sometimes incorporate drywall or other industrial materials that I also manipulate to make look old. I am having fun with these street poster paintings, and they might be the most 'New York' work I make.
The cement installations, on the other hand, are not done in my studio but instead made on-site, especially as they have gotten larger and more elaborate. The first installation was of an apartment building, and consisted of a couch and table and shelf and chair. It looked like a studio apartment. The next installation was of a room being painted, with a drop cloth and ladder and paint roller on a part of a wall that had been cemented. These were both in New York. Then came the dry cleaning shop in Berlin, which consisted of shirts being dry cleaned. For this I showed up in Berlin with just my laptop, and challenged myself to find the material for the piece when I got there. I had a great time in Berlin. After that came the cemented Volvo, again in Brooklyn, and most recently the cemented dentist office. These cement pieces are fun because I get to recreate little stories for the viewer, little scenes that at first appear normal and natural. The cement, though, seems to thicken the air and slow down time. It is as if you are trespassing, and have stumbled onto a place where you are not quite sure if you are allowed or alone.
Sources of inspiration?
New York is a big inspiration for me, the way the city is constantly changing and reinventing itself. There is always some type of construction or deconstruction to study. Instagram as well; I have met a lot of artists through IG, and enjoy making new discoveries this way. And of course music, both live or in my head.
What do you do when you’re not creating and making art?
I spend too much time watching and thinking about soccer, or European Football, and care way too much about it as an American. If a game is not on I like to get outside, go for a run or a swim. Films and books are a great way for me to unwind as well.
If you were something edible, what would you be?
Something chewy. Maybe a caramel or toffee.
What does a Volvo symbolise to you?
Man, those old Volvo 240s are such beautiful cars. I think as a kid they symbolized freedom and adventure. For the piece I needed a smaller car that would fit in the shipping container, and wanted something that was sculptural and interesting to look at. It came down to either a Volvo or a Porsche, and I was lucky enough to find the Volvo nearby and for the right price.
What are you up to this summer?
I hope to curate a show this fall, so am beginning to organize that. There is a residency I am also looking at, and am beginning to plan the next cement installation. Other than that I will be in my studio working on new canvases and a new street poster piece. It should be a good summer.
courtesy ERIK SOMMER
interview REBECCA LOVGREN
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