In the Studio: Erika B. Hess

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I grew up in a small town in south-eastern Ohio and was always interested in art. At a young age, my mom noticed my inclination towards drawing and put me in an art class at the local YMCA. The class didn’t last because of a lack of students but it was enough to show me that there was something outside of drawing in school and at the kitchen table. 

I ended up going to college where I fell in love with painting. I had wonderful teachers, Glen Cebulash and Diane Fitch, and luckily through low tuition costs and art scholarships, I pretty much took a drawing class every semester even though I didn’t have to. I was in love with painting and with the idea of being a painter. Looking back it was a bit of a fanatical love but that’s what happens when you are 19.

In 2007, I went to Boston University to study painting followed by a move to NYC in 2009. I consider those five years to be an informative time in my life. The paintings I made at that time were both terrible and wonderful. I was trying out a lot of new ideas and making abstract paintings. As I like to say, I felt like I was stumbling through the dark in those paintings. Bumping into edges and trying to make a painting out of that but I guess that is a lot of what life is like.

I ended up leaving NYC in 2011 to work at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design where I traveled around the country talking to art students about their portfolio and running a summer art program. It was a great job. I got to see museums all over the country and was paid to talk about work! I would travel, come home and make paintings in my live/work space. Soon I moved to Boston where I helped co-found the artist collective, MUSA Collective (named after Phillip Guston’s wife and daughter). 

What I learned as an artist assistant in NYC coupled with learning how to organize information at U of M and starting an artist collective truly laid the groundwork for where I am today. Through those experiences, I learned how to organize my studio, time and information to run art spaces while I continued to develop my art practice. Now I live in Columbus, OH with my two kids, and husband where I paint, curate shows and run the podcast I Like Your Work. 

 

2. Which current art world trends are you following?

I’m personally interested in a couple of topics that have been popping up in the art world. Number one is artists as parents and artists making work about it that is being taken seriously. Of course work about children and home life has always been made but it has been considered, for the most part, frivolous when women made it. Over the past five or so years I am seeing tons of work dedicated to this topic whether it be through subject matter or process and it is thrilling!

Secondly, artists as creators beyond the studio. I used to believe that the only thing I should do was be in the studio. Now I truly believe in artists creating community, helping each other, and creating spaces or initiatives. 

 

3. You stated on your submission “Currently my work incorporates the cycle of living and death but is dedicated to the point in-between; the phase in a woman’s life as creator, mother and healer.” How do you feel that this informs women’s’ role in the arts both currently and in the future?

I truly struggled with the idea of becoming a parent. It was something I wanted but I was terrified would end my creative career. I came out of an era where 9-5 and power suits where the aspiration for girls like myself. Women in charge of their lives, who had successful careers, no kids and a corner office were my inspiration. You still see this trope in movies, sitcoms etc juxtaposed with the overly soft mom with spit up on her shirt who is a disaster. Now, this is a very masculine and capitalistic sense of success that looks down on women, which I didn’t understand when I was younger, but still, unlearning this version of success has been tough.

We all have masculine and feminine characteristics, but one has always been held as stronger, better, and more desirable. I think the discussion of women being empowered without having to don masculine armor ie “be one of the guys” whether in the art world or office, is becoming more open. Women, or men, who decide to lean into having kids and lean OUT of the art world view that to be a “serious artist”-ie one who forgoes children because they are a distraction, is becoming more apparent and discussed. Of course, you can replace “art world” with any professional arena and it is still applicable. 

I want to point out that you do not have to have children in order to push back against this supreme gendered view of success. When I say mothers, healers, and creatives, I mean those that are truly seeing the world around them, embrace feminine qualities  (women AND men), and are adding something positive through their acts because they understand we are only here for a little while. That working yourself into the ground in order to achieve an outdated version of success is not the way nor is judging qualities that historically have been labeled feminine.

The future for women in the art world is bright, I think there will be only more opportunities for women as they articulate their artistic voices and truth. Through platforms like this, blogs, podcasts, artist-run spaces etc women are sharing their experiences and it’s truly powerful. 

 

4. What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?

I think like most artists, my biggest challenge is time. There are so many responsibilities for people and artists. Now we have tools like Instagram, websites and email lists but they take up more time on top of what we are doing in the studio. Add on personal responsibilities and a job and it can get overwhelming. I am a HUGE advocate of time blocking and have a calendar that I live by. Every night before I go to bed I write down what I did and on an index card map out my next day. It has helped tremendously in getting work done in the studio and reducing the anxiety that can creep in from having a lot on your plate.  

 

5. I feel as though also gallery and your podcast “I Like Your Work” have a lot in common as far as wanting to help promote artists in a time when we need art more than ever. Will you speak to how you began podcasting and perhaps any future goals you have for the project? 

Agreed! That is why I am so thrilled to be part of Also Gallery! I started podcasting after I had helped co-found Musa Collective in Boston, MA. I had such a wonderful time helping create a physical space for artists but I was going to be moving and therefore no longer in Boston. I thought about writing or blogging about art but I felt more confident speaking. I’m also a bit of a podcast junkie and listen to them in my studio so it made sense. 

It has been incredible to connect with a broader community of artists through the podcast. At its core, the podcast is something to help artists. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, feel alone, negative etc so I wanted something to help ease those feelings. To say, “Keep going! It’s ok! You are making what is right for you and we need people like you!”

In terms of future goals for the podcast, I have asked listeners what they want and artists are asking for more exposure so I’ve been busy trying to create platforms to show people’s work. That is part of the future goal, how can I show more artwork and help more artists. I’m excited that the I Like Your Work Fall Juried Show will be happening in November! It is our first juried show that will take place at Dutoit Gallery in Dayton, OH and have an accompanying Online Exhibition.

 

6. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

Yes! I am in the process of creating I Like Your Work Artist Collections, prints by artists coupled with objects made predominantly by women! The aim is to have affordable options for collecting work, support artists by selling their work and have a little fun. I’ve never done anything like this so I’m excited to see what happens! I am also working on resources and possible courses for artists on time management, website curation, and feedback on work. I’m not sure when that will go live but I am excited to share that it is in the works. I’m also thrilled that I will be having a solo show at Marietta College in 2021 that I am currently making work for. 

 

7. My favorite question to end with, is what advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

Great question! The first piece of advice that really made an impact and that I still think about a lot is from the painter Stanley Lewis. “You will spend the rest of your painting career relearning what you already know”. So many times in a painting I will start to move into something and think, “Omg! I remember thinking about this 10 years ago!”

“Be careful who you invite into your studio”. John Walker when I invited a critic into my studio as my first studio visit in grad school at Boston University. I was looking forward to it and John came in beforehand to ease the whiplash that he knew would more than likely occur. In case you were wondering, it didn’t go well! 

“Find a way to support yourself,” and, “There are many different ways to be an artist”. Practical advice from painter Dana Frankfort who taught at BU when I was there. I was willing to be totally broke to be an artist but there hits a point when you need to have an income or health insurance. Finding a way to support yourself and then going into the studio is ok. Also, there are so many ways to be an artist, don’t look at one model and think that is the only way. 

 

To learn more about Erika and her podcast “I Like Your Work,” visit her page here.

 

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