Erin CURRIER – Visual Artist – BERLIN, Germany

The only regret I have is that I couldn’t go to Berlin and see Erin’s work in the flesh, so-to-speak. Staring at the pictures on my computer, getting as close as I can, I can just start to identify the collected pieces of rubbish that are used as a collage to form the clothing, the backgrounds, like layers of secret messages only revealed through time and close observation. I wish I could get so close that I could almost smell the grease smudged McDonalds wrappers that Erin used to represent an indian cow, a sacred and revered animal made from the left-overs of the most famous bovine-murdering company in the world. I didn’t, I couldn’t and until I do, my small flat screen will have to suffice, it just doesn’t seem right though.
(Portrait of Erin is copyright of Jennifer Esperanza.)

ALOUD: Erin, how and when did your passion to express yourself visually emerge?

ERIN CURRIER: I began drawing, painting, and collaging at a very young age with my mother—who worked as a draftswoman and architectural designer, as her own father before her had, for many years. As a child, I could be taken anywhere, remaining patient and quiet, so long as I had a crayon or marker in my hand!

ALOUD: What type of training did you receive?

ERIN: I went to college for theatre design with an emphasis in costume design (I received a BFA at the College of Santa Fe, NM). As part of the academic program, I studied all facets of the theatre: directing, acting, set design, lighting design, scene painting, etc. The experience continues to influence my work to this day, however, by my last year of university, I knew that I would not pursue a career in theatre, as I had an omnipresent desire to paint—a passion I was spending every spare moment engaged in.

ALOUD: How did you make the transition between these two fields?

ERIN: Soon after I graduated, I worked in a café where I would gather the day’s refuse: empty cream containers, sugar packets, tea boxes, stir sticks, the materials with which I would bring home after work to create Buddhist deities; as I was, at that time, studying Tibetan Thangka Painting and practicing Buddhist meditation. I had my first solo exhibition of this work at the café to an overwhelming response.

ALOUD: Can you describe specific turning points which have had a strong impact on the direction of your work and career as an artist?

ERIN: As well as making art, traveling the world has been the priority and focus of my life. After a couple of years working part time in cafes while working on my art, I began decorative painting, restoration, antique finishing, and mural painting with my partner, Anthony for several years. I continued to create spiritual iconography out of “post-consumer waste” as well. In 2000, Anthony and I took a nine month odyssey around the world: studying martial arts in China, living and painting in Nepal, traveling around India and Italy looking at art, visiting Thailand and Spain. This trip was the first of many that changed my life and art irrevocably. What had previously been relatively small portraits of spiritual figures made out of local packaging, became large-scale socio-political and spiritual figures made out of international trash gathered on several continents and packaging written in different languages. For example, I created a one-legged Indian Beggar as Siva, holding a crutch for a trident, a cow at his feet collaged from McDonald’s cheeseburger wrappers collected in Beijing. There was also an Angela Davis as the Green Tara, and so forth (this work can be viewed on my site in the chapter titled “Liberation Series”). As a result of the economic disparity and inequality I had encountered in the course of my travels, I had begun to read every book on Civil Rights and Human Rights movements that I could find, and my work took on a new urgency. I was inspired by activists like Davis—Septima Clark, Bob Moses, Diane Nash,etc.—who embodied spiritual principles through political activism.

ALOUD: How has your work evolved through time and experiences?

ERIN: What began as a natural progression of my socio-political beliefs with my love for making art, has since developed into a full-fledged artistic praxis by which I integrate the human realm I come in contact with in the course of my travels—its individuals, cultures, and struggles—with its refuse, in order to comment on and participate in the issues I feel most passionate about.

ALOUD: How does your practice sustain itself?

ERIN: For the past ten years, I have travelled the world, immersing myself to the best of my abilities in the places and cultures I am traveling in: studying languages, researching, talking to people, sketching, keeping journals, collecting packaging and debris with which to make art. I typically travel three to six months per year, then return to the studio where I create series of works which are then exhibited in a big annual solo show, the proceeds of which I am then able to travel with. It is a form of recycling in that, I take the refuse of the Global South and make it into art which is bought and collected in the “developed world”; the proceeds are then spent back in the Global South. In this way, I have been able to support myself through doing what I love most: making art and traveling; while also living in line with my socio political beliefs.

ALOUD: Do you tend to follow a plan or would you rather let things evolve organically?

ERIN: When I set out on a journey, I often have some idea of the direction my new work will take—as the direction is based upon issues I am currently most engaged in and passionate about. Inevitably, however, the work evolves organically as new issues are brought to light in the places I visit and through the stories of the people who I meet. For instance, I went to Nicaragua intending to create portraits of Sandinista revolutionaries and their movement’s namesake, Augusto Sandino. In the course of my travels there, I met a bookseller who told me the story of Roberto Lopez Perez—the poet who dressed as a waiter in order to gain access to a banquet where he proceeded to assassinate the cruel dictator, Anastacio Somoza. I also met Dona Luisa, who, along with a few other mothers of fallen Sandinista revolutionaries, runs a small museum in Leon in their honor. The Waiter, and Los Madres de los Revolucionarios, are but two of many pieces that resulted from many such encounters during my travels.

ALOUD: Do you draw a line between your life and your work?

ERIN: I do not draw a line between my art and my life. My art informs my life: the decisions I make, the places I decide to travel to, and, as a result, the people I meet, the friends I make, the opportunities that arise. In turn, how I choose to live informs my art. The two are inseparable and interdependent. Every moment that I live is in service to my art; “Art is Life and Life, Transformation”, the Catalonian artist Joan Brassos once stated…

ALOUD: if anything, what would you change about your current situation?

ERIN: Now I have begun to make Berlin my (hopefully) relatively permanent home base in place of New Mexico—where I had lived in Taos, Santa Fe, and the vicinity for nearly two decades. I have always loved Europe for a number of reasons: its languages, its arts, the simple life here that is relatively free of the oversized automobiles, the six lane freeways, the oversized Walmarts, Whole Foods, Home Depots, and, worst of all, the supersized military, all inherent to the USA. A move to Europe is one of several changes I hope to make around being increasingly mobile, being able to express myself through work that is increasingly smaller, lighter, less dependent upon systems of transport, shipping, etc., that contribute to the depletion of the world’s ever-dwindling resources.

ALOUD: How are you going to take it to the next level?

ERIN: I have long considered myself to be politically active through my art—that this is my responsibility, obligation, and privilege—as an artist and a woman; but I have felt an urgency to do more. I would like to figure out a way to continue to create meaningful art, to continue to sustain my minimal needs through making art, but to also step outside of the capitalist art market entirely. Just as the fields of architecture, engineering, medicine, technology, and education continue to seek innovative and sustainable modes of being, I think the “Art World” should follow suit. Conceptual art has reached record heights of extravagance with its wasteful, corporate-sponsored installations mounted in complicit and profit-starved museums, and for what? For whom?

ALOUD: Do you think that the risks of living one’s life outside the mainstream are justified by the rewards it offers?

ERIN: I feel that the reward of living and making art in a way that does not compromise one’s philosophical, socio-political, and spiritual beliefs is immeasurable; it is worth every risk, and, as it is, in the end, the only way to live.

When the time came to recommend another woman who would find her place on the pages of Aloud., Erin suggested:

Francesca Marciano is an award winning novelist (“Rules of the wild”, “Casa Rossa” and “The end of manners” amongst others) as well as screen writer (I’m not scared) who has travelled extensively and divides her time between Europe, the US and Kenya.

To see more of Erin’s work and find out about upcoming exhibitions, you can visit her website at : www.erincurrierfineart.com

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13 comments

  1. Tiffany Harris

    Thank you for posting this interview. It is very interesting to see the way Currier juxtaposes delicate images with refuse. It helps illustrate the underlying discord that is so prevalent in Western society. There are, like you said, so many layers to it. I also really like the way she talks about understanding and living by one’s personal values calling it, “the only way to live.” Unlike the post-consumer waste which she uses to create her art, time is not something that we can reuse. If we waste time doing things that are not in line with our core values and thus not producing the result we want, that loss is unfortunately permanent. After reading this interview I feel a need to prioritize my beliefs because, in the sense of reclaiming waste, not wasting our most limited resource seems logical.

  2. Thanks Tiffany for your very thoughtful comments. The other one on ideas has not gone unnoticed either. I think that you have made a very good point about this notion of limited time we have and it is indeed one topic that has come up a lot in these interviews. Not so much this idea of “life is short so we should all go skydiving” but really the notion that time is one of the most precious things we have and should be used in such a way that we do not fear looking back.

  3. ~ Thanks for this great interview with the powerful.. talented & lovely Erin Currier . I have shared this on my facebook wall so that some of Erin’s friend in New Mexico can read it. Thank you for posting the photo credit under my photo of Erin. Your Blog is inspired!
    Much Kindness,
    Jennifer Esperanza
    Santa Fe New Mexico

  4. I like Tiffany’s comments too. We’ll be missing you in New Mexico, but I’m sure you are right about the military monster and over-consumption of food and fuel in the USA.
    I have hopes all this will be changing as the earth balances itself out and the people overthrow the chains of national security and demolish the lies that keep in play the competition killing game (war) and pillaging the poor of their resources (food, water,clothing, shelter).
    Keep up the good work, Erin.

  5. Jane

    “Powerful” is most definitely the word that comes to mind when reading Aloud’s interview of Erin Currier. And yet, power is not what she is seeking, is it?

    How reassuring to note that someone whose goal is to live through her art can leave behind the smallest footprint possible. No need to tip toe to do so either! Those Docs will do just fine on any trip she takes as her self-sustaining loop broadens, transforming refuse into art and art into the means to travel onward.

    If one’s goal is to learn, to share, to create and to provoke thought, there is no need to compete or to win at all costs. Erin Currier is on the right track and there is clearly no stopping her. Yes indeed, how reassuring that is!

  6. One more reason to like Erin is that her friends comment, thanks ladies!

    Powerful does come to mind, I was also thinking that Erin has managed to achieve the great balance of taking her work seriously but not herself. She is aware of the changes we, as educated westerners, can make in impoverished countries and is a sort of ecologically conscious Robin Hood of our times, taking from the Rich and giving to the Poor, going around in circles, turning trash into art, endlessly.

    Nevertheless, she is not a messenger of the West and seems humbled by her encounters around the world. From experience, I can say that not all westerners feel that way and in fact, display an arrogance rarely encountered when in a position of financial superiority. It can be sickening to see young backpacker type women treating locals like servants to the queens they think they are.

    Anyway, I could ramble on for a while, but mainly I am very pleased that this interview was able to start a dialogue between people who don’t know each other. That makes my day!

  7. Jane

    The irony is that those with financial and material superiority think themselves powerful and yet they are highly vulnerable if unexpectedly stripped of their comfortable assets. Panic and fear ensue if they have no choice but to manage with less. Frivolous desires become consumer necessities weaken rather than strengthen the human core. But try convincing them that “less is more …”

    On a cheerier note, perhaps one day Aloud’s Santa Fe readership will meet the Fort Worth contingent!

  8. ~ Love to all here…
    I know that Erin works from her heart …she works very hard and is a devoted artist. I find this to be powerful…. that is all.
    Rock on with your beautiful self Erin!
    xox,
    Jen

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