Monday, February 13, 2012

interview: erica popp

Erica Popp is a St. Louis artist who has been exhibiting her photography and mixed-media work since 2003, including a solo show of her non-silver photographic prints at the Indianapolis Art Center in 2007. Erica holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Principia College, an A.F.A. in Photography from St. Louis Community College at Meramec, and is working toward an M.A. in Literacy Education. She also spent a year studying photography and ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute. Erica is a practicing artist and teaches writing and Photography at Principia College in Elsah, IL and at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the St. Louis Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art.

After seeing that Erica had work in the current exhibit at Art Saint Louis, I asked Erica some questions about her art, and she answered them as best she could. She remarked that the questions were challenging and fun to think about.

a Van Dyke Brown print, "Whisper of a Dream"
Who or what inspires you?
I draw a lot of inspiration from nature, and from ideas that I come across in literature or in conversation. I am also inspired by the work of other artists. Their influence may not be obvious in the work that I do, but some of my favorite artists are Andy Goldsworthy, Imogene Cunningham, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Anselm Kiefer, Ann Hamilton, and Oliver Herring. Most of those artists are contemporary. I think this is because I see art not as just making beautiful things, but as a conversation with other artists and with viewers of art. What am I saying in response to Goldsworthy’s work? How do I relate to Sugimoto’s ideas about what makes the best photographs? I am interested in what’s going on now – what is happening in the world, and how are other artists responding to these events and ideas?

a digital photograph titled "Secrets"

Who or what would you consider your most important form of support?
I think my mom’s encouragement to do whatever makes me happy is huge. Another important supporter is my friend Sun Smith-Foret. She’s an established artist who I work for as a studio assistant. I’ve learned a lot from working in her studio over the last two years. I also have the support of my friends and of other women artists from the Women’s Caucus for Art.

One of Erica's sculptures (Found books, plywood, and particle board) "They Are So Wise"
How has your own art evolved over time?
I think my art has come to be more concerned with exploring ideas than with creating pretty pictures. I still love making beautiful things, but I am now more interested in how it helps me think through complex ideas. I care less about the end product and more about the process. I’m also more comfortable working outside of my favorite medium, photography, and trying different approaches to the same idea.

Erica with her piece, "Temporal, Cyclical," which was on display at the Foundry Art Center in 2010. 
It is currently on display through Feb. 23 at Art St. Louis
photo credit: Jennifer Weigel
What is your favorite piece of your own art and why?
My favorite piece is the installation piece that is currently on display at Art Saint Louis as part of the “Memory” exhibit (the show runs through February 23). The piece is called “Temporal, Cyclical,” and is made up of ginkgo leaves and torn paper. It’s my favorite because it is one of my first serious departures from my photographic work. I’ve been interested in sculpture, but not done much of it. However, I find it refreshing to pursue similar themes in different media – to approach the same idea in several ways. In some ways this piece isn’t much of a departure at all. As a photographer, I’m interested sharing what I find beautiful or intriguing in the world. That’s also what I’ve done with “Temporal, Cyclical.” I found the leaves beautiful, and I found the yellowing paper beautiful, and I wanted a way to share what I saw in them. Presented in this way, as a shape resembling a crescent moon, I am able to speak about the way things change over time, yet continue. I think that art and poetry affect us on a level that is intuitive and that gives us a new insight into something that is true, but that perhaps we don’t know how to put into words. 

This piece is also a departure from my obsession with archival quality that so many photographers have. We’re trained in it. In photography, everything is acid-free, and I handle my work with white cotton gloves. This sculptural piece is the opposite of archival. This piece is not meant to last in its current state. It’s made from organic material and paper that is yellowing away to nothing. It will, however, have a second life when I use the materials to make new paper.

Erica installing her piece, "Temporal, Cyclical," at Art St. Louis
photo credit: Robin Hirsch
Who’s your biggest fan?
Definitely my mom. Although my friends and the rest of my family are also great supporters, as are the women from the Womens’ Caucus for Art.

"Temporal, Cyclical" at Art St. Louis
photo credit: Robin Hirsch
Final words? Advice for other artists and aspiring artists?
If you are passionate about art, make it fit into your life. It’s difficult sometimes. I know that I have a hard time finding time and space for art-making when I know I have papers to grade, papers to write, dishes to wash, and lessons to plan. I’m trying to get used to thinking about art practice in the same way musicians think about practice. When I took flute and piano lessons I was always supposed to practice for an hour or two a day or something like that. Art is the same way, I think.

I think building a network of artists is also important. Although it’s true that the world of art is competitive, my experience has been that artists are generally supportive of one another. Getting involved with groups such as The Women’s Caucus for Art, Art Saint Louis, or the Saint Louis Artists’ Guild can help you meet people who are dealing with the same things you are dealing with, or who are older and wiser and great at giving advice. I have learned a lot from the people I work with.

I also recommend that aspiring artists put their work out there! And don’t just show it to your parents and your friends who will tell you how great you are – show it to people who know about art and will ask you tough questions about what you’re doing. Getting critical feedback can sometimes feel discouraging, but you can’t fear it. It’s important to know what people are seeing in your work, and it’s an opportunity for artistic growth.

Also, look at art, read about art, write about art, and take a class in criticism. I audited a literary criticism class and learned even more about art than I had learned from my studio classes. I had learned techniques for making art, but studying literature helped me learn how to think about art.

Thanks so much Erica for taking the time to share your inspired thoughts on art with me.  Be sure to check out Erica's piece in Art St. Louis's Memory exhibit now through February 23rd.  You can also learn more about Erica by following her blog or visiting her Etsy shop.

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