Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Speaking with Tapestry Artist Erin M. Riley

Erin at work in her studio (photo by Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts)

The other day I was visiting my friend Cortney in Milwaukee and noticed a rad postcard on her fridge. Amongst the typical refrigerator decor of baby pictures, wedding invites and shopping lists, there was an image of a woven tapestry—featuring a chick sitting on a couch, smoking a bong next to a laptop. Say what!? As it was unlike anything I have seen in this lifetime, I asked Cortney about it, who exclaimed it was by “the lady that does the naked woman tapestries!” She then not only gave me the postcard, but also opened me up to the world of Erin M. Riley, a contemporary tapestry artist, based out of Philadelphia. Upon Cortney’s urging, I contacted Erin to see if she would be interested in sharing with C.L.A.P. her experience as an artist and was totally stoked to hear back from her almost immediately.

Keep reading to find out Erin’s thoughts on utilizing amature internet porn pics for tapestry subject matter, the struggles creative types face and advice for female artists. Be sure to check out our Fall 2012 issue for Erin's complete interview, and for more on what Erin is up to.

Shots (All following photos by Erin M. Riley)
C.L.A.P: Your latest collection is amazing. What kind of reactions did it receive from folks? How did it come about? How does it differ from past work that you've done?

Erin M. Riley: This newest work is the most nude I have ever done. I had been collecting "party girl" pictures for a while but then started getting really disillusioned and was looking for more personal imagery. I have always loved the images women take of themselves to pass along, newage keepsakes or tokens of love that end up on the internet for mass consumption. I can completely relate to taking a photograph in which you think your body looks great, only for a suitor to say, "show me your tits", or "take off your pants". I am completely interested in need for constant updated visual stimulation, which I think is a result of the internet. I am also so so so interested in the trends in pornography that end up in the minds of young men and women and become regular behavior. And that is where the images of girls being cummed on comes from.

C.L.A.P.: How does your creative process work?

EMR: I am constantly thinking of things to weave, so I collect images, take images or search out something specific and print it out. I trace the image, blow it up using an overhead projector and trace it to scale and i I use that as a template when weaving. I am really inspired by everyday stuff, by interactions with lovers, reality tv, life, etc.

C.L.A.P.: What do you think is the biggest misconception when it comes to how people view artists?

EMR: I find lately that young adults think being an artist is easy or because someone has gotten an MFA they deserve something. Being an artist requires a lot of hard work, people skills, business skills, organization, paper work!!, etc. And just because you might make something that is cool, if you never show anyone or apply for anything, you might never get anywhere. I am in my studio every day, from 2pm to 2am sometimes longer, very rarely shorter, but I am in my studio every day.

C.L.A.P.: I read a statement from you in which you attributed going to school for art as a major factor for being able to do what you do. In the face of difficulties getting paid work and dealing with student loans, do you have any advice for people considering going (or returning) to school to follow their passions?

EMR: I think for me, I was really young going to grad school, 21, and it gave me a really hard kick in the butt. It was hard, I had an assistantship at Tyler School of Art, so for the first year I had free tuition and a stipend but I was pretty much working 20-30 hours on top of going to grad school. I napped a lot in the studio. I think it really helped me get into a rhythm of making work despite being busy and having other things to focus on. I do think student loans are something to consider when you are getting any education, for me I make so little income that the IBR program has allowed me to pay very little each month. I may never pay off my student loans, but its manageable and I would rather pay a little each month than work two jobs to pay a huge sum to pay it off. Dont get loans from Sallie Mae if you can avoid it, government loans and try to get low interest loans obviously.

C.L.A.P.: Who are some other female artists you would recommend that people check out?

EMR: I have always loved Louise Bourgeois, Kathy Acker, Sheila Hicks and I am showing with the fantastic painter Pakayla Rae Biehn coming up, I also have a thing for Marisa Sciabarrasi's photograph/video.

C.L.A.P.: What do you have coming up?

EMR: Right now I am working on self portraits, working to keep the backgrounds and dye lots the same so that the colors are matching, trying to create a series of pieces that seem to have been taken on the same day wearing the same clothing, or undergarments. Creating pieces that are body shots, images that I think are flattering and beautiful but also images that are pure presentation. I started a series called Presenting, of images of just the front image of the vagina. The beautiful unique W shape, thinking about how in those images it feels like you're giving away a lot.

I am going to do some diptychs, comparing images. I have so many tapestries to weave, its kind of insane but thats a good thing. Ideas are flowing. I am showing in Los Angeles, Boston, Prague, and Brooklyn coming up and I have a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in October.

C.L.A.P.: What advice do you have for women who want to work professionally as artists?

EMR: I think that all I can say is be authentic and real. Trust your gut and don't let anyone talk down to you or push you around. Get used to rejection, its just part of the life.

For more of Erin's interview, pick up our Fall 2012 "Peace, Love and Happiness" issue, available NOW on our Double Peace Etsy website and soon to come at select awesome vendors in Minneapolis and Iowa City. 

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