Stripped, stretched, stabbed, slashed or sculpted, in Erika Keck’s paintings, the picture plane is far from plain. With each of her colorful and often visceral canvasesErika reinvents her painterly approach. Based in Brooklyn, she’s exhibited her diverse body of work in three solo shows, and multiple group exhibitions in cities across the nation. Recently I got to talk to artist Erika Keck about everything from full-frontal nudity to 3-D printed Van Goghs!
In your more recent works, you've moved away from formal representation. Yet even without depicting faces or figures, there is an unshakable sense of the bodily- in the clustered accumulation of soft, organic forms, fleshy color palate and layers of flayed canvas (one piece even reminds me of an MRI scan). Is your process akin to how the human body builds itself, coming together as layers of cells, tissues, organs, etc, or are you more interested in dissection, how things are torn apart ? Do you view these paintings as an extension of your body?
Lately I’ve been trying to start with fewer preconcieved ideas outside of simply making a painting. Within that process of building a painting there’s a lot to play with and experiment with. I do see it as more of a process of building as opposed to dissecting something. However, I like leaving things a bit unfinished and rough around the edges. So I’m more inclined to a work in progress approach as opposed to a torn apart approach. I do think of the paintings as extension of not just my body, but mind and spirit as well.
With Limp, you've dialed down the shock factor, whereas previous shows, like Poison had lots of sexually explicit imagery. What is lost and what is gained in producing a cleaner show? (For example, are the pieces easier to sell?) Do you feel your current work is in the same spirit as your earlier paintings, and strikes the same emotional notes?
I wasn’t deliberately trying to make a ‘cleaner’ show. I’ve never made any decisions that would make the work easier (or more difficult) to sell. My main goal is to make a painting not a product. Somethings sell. Some don’t. Some are a little more in your face and some more subtle. So in a nut shell, yes I see it all in the same spirit. However, I don’t feel so inclined these days to make work that’s overtly about being shocking or simply sharing my anxiety with the world.
Your show, Me The People seemed to comment on American narcissism. I started thinking about how action painting, the first huge art movement of American origin, put great emphasis on the artist as an individual (a form of self-centeredness). The paintings act as a map of the painter's movements; his or her personality is captured in the pigment. Since your work continues partially in the tradition of action painting, was this your intentional commentary? What was the genesis of the more pointedly political drawings included in that show?
I wasn’t specifically thinking of action painting or artistic egos when I was putting that body of work together. I was thinking about a more general self centeredness that is prevalent just about everywhere. I think there’s a double edged sword when it comes to being self centered. We all need to be self centered enough so that we take care of ourselves, however, I don’t think it’s healthy to be so self centered we forget to help others and make sure we’re giving back some how. I think the piece in the show that was my version of the American constitution was inspired by a lot of the discourse coming from politicians. Especially politicians who attempt to manipulate the constitution to serve their selfish needs rather than attempting to make a more inclusive and fair society.
Your body of work is incredibly diverse and no two paintings are quite alike in their look, subject matter, and approach. What do you think about artists who create multiple, near-identical paintings?
I think all artists have their own methods and goals for creating work. I know people are down on that brand of formalism largely because it has flooded the art market at the moment. In a few years some other style of art will replace it and likely dominate the art market and people will critique it similarly. For myself, I would not enjoy making very similar work over and over. I enjoy the process of experimenting and letting the painting take me to places I didn’t expect. I think it’s important to have a sense of play when it comes to making a painting.
When you're working, are you conceptualizing your show as a whole, thinking, I have one big black painting, now I can play off of that with a small white one, or is it totally intuitive ? Do you ever breed your works with each other- combining the colors of one painting with the approach of another? More broadly: how do your works play off one another?
I definitely work more intuitively. It all goes back to approaching each painting and each body of work with fewer preconcieved ideas. I tend to work on several paintings at the same time so naturally the paintings start to communicate with each other. And usually the last painting I do tends to inform the next one.
Do you ever experiment with digital painting? Do you think you could create a work in the same exploratory fashion using digital tools? Is there a point in simulating the three-dimensional properties of paint, like the 3-D printed masterpiece facsimiles?
I’m not really interested in digital painting. I enjoy materials too much and enjoy getting my hands dirty. I think the point of 3-d printed paintings like those might be largely for the novelty of it. And sure maybe it’s a near perfect copy but it’ll never be a Picasso.
Which other current artists do you like?
I just finished doing a show with Nick Theobald and Michael Bevilacqua so I’m a little partial to them at the moment. But the Peter Dreher show that was up recently at Koenig and Clinton might be my favorite thing I saw this year.
What is the most pressing issue facing painters in 2014?
I think the issues should largely be personal ones. I think painting has been around for so long that it’s worked out it’s big issues which give painters a lot of freedom to explore what’s relevenat to themselves.
*Quirky Question* Would you rather be stranded on a desert island or a dessert island?