Meet Artist Erika Rachel
Art really started as therapy for me.
I was freshly divorced and my father had just passed away. I had little money, no job, no family nearby and no idea how I was going to support myself. I always wanted to work for myself and had this belief that I could do it, but felt compelled to be the person others thought I should be. I had a father who always thought I should go back to school and a husband who believed in the traditional 9-5 structured job.
With my dad’s passing and my divorce, I had a new-found freedom. I decided, “No one is going to tell me what to do anymore.” I had a vision of success as I defined it and made it my mission to do this. I would not let myself fail. Very quickly people started taking an interest in my work, including high profile collectors. Three years later I am making my living through art, something I had believed in my core was possible. And I’m loving the life I’m living.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m 31 and was born in NY and raised in NJ. As an adult, I bounced around the area before landing back in my small hometown, Milford.
Growing up my mom was very into the Victorian era and we lived in a large house in the historic district of Plainfield. You can’t renovate your house there without agreeing to use period specific details and materials and so I ended up spending a lot of time around traditional oil paintings and classic furniture until I was a teenager.
I wasn’t exposed to abstract art until I lived in NYC in my late teens/early 20’s. I grew up thinking that to be an artist you had to be traditionally trained and paint landscapes, bowls of fruit and flowers. I’m so happy I was wrong about that.
Can you talk about a defining moment in your life that has influenced your work?
I’ve always been creative and was always orchestrating something entertaining and creative but when I was 10 years old my parents were getting a divorce and my mom thought I should be in a therapy group with other kids going through the same thing.
One session I was there by myself and the exercise was to draw what happens in my household. With just me and the instructor there I drew yellow spirals, red sunbursts and blue spirals. The shapes were scattered on the page overlapping in some areas and clustered in others. When the instructor asked me to describe what I drew I said the yellow spirals were my mom, the red bursts were my dad and the blue spirals were me. He said “Ok, that all makes sense, but I was looking for something more like this…” he turned his page over and showed a literal house with rooms and people; a mother stick figure in the kitchen, a dad stick figure in the garage, and a kid stick figure in the bedroom.
I felt I drew what was true for my house, and I was satisfied, but I also felt I did the assignment wrong, which felt awful. I wish I could find that drawing. It was indicative of the abstract expressionist career I’d have 20 years later, but it hasn’t surfaced yet and I doubt it ever will.
What does Art mean to you & how does it impact your life?
At this stage of my life and career I’m not quite sure. I feel like my relationship to Art is more like a marriage and in its early stages, we’re still learning about each other and finding our groove. Although Art has always felt like a closed circle to me, like something other people do or become good at. It took me 2 years into being a full-time artist to even call myself an Artist. It took a long time for me to actually own that title.
Why do you do what you do?
I have always felt more comfortable living outside the norm and the norm for me growing up was representational work. Abstract art or even art in general has few limits and I love that. In fact, it’s something I’m still working to embrace.
Society encourages following suit more than they do being inventive or drawing outside the lines. Being a successful working artist is a challenge and I love a challenge.
I want to prove that its possible. I want to inspire other young women to do what they love and to not let their nurturing/passive instincts get in the way of them following their dream.
How do you select your muses?
Usually by dating them. LOL. I know its cliché to say my life, but it’s true. You don’t title a painting “The Ex” without having one.
Apparently every man who enters my life enters my work. My exes, my friends, my enemies, even my own father has been the inspiration for a painting.
Men are fascinating and play an important role in my life.
What are some of the thoughts that go into your subjects?
I choose my subject based on what’s happening in my life at the moment. Whatever I’m thinking about or working through goes into a painting. Say I go through a relationship break up, there’s a range of emotions and layers there to paint, I think that’s why exes and breakups are such relatable and classic subjects of movies, art, music etc. There’s a cycle of love, hate, regret, blame, completion, acceptance, dismay, depression, loneliness, sadness, adjustment, emergence, healing, joy, release, happiness, more adjustment, empowerment and a readiness to move forward that we can each relate to in some way. What better subject than emotions, thoughts, and decisions? Every situation renders different circumstances so even if the emotion is similar the painting will be unique.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
I don’t have many artistic influences; I try to not be influenced. I want my work to be pure, so whatever tools I use or ideas I have are from within. If my work mimics someone else’s its truly accidental. I’m not saying I’m original, just pure. Seeing other people’s work does remind me to not place borders around what I call art, but that doesn’t equal attempting their style.
If time, money, and materials weren't limiting factors what would be your ideal project?
I’d travel the world and make art inspired by the different locations. My works would be influenced by the native colors, patterns, architecture, landscapes and culture and social temperature. Each work would be completed in the location it was inspired by.
What are some unique challenges with your style of artwork?
Getting people to stop seeing representational images in the final product. I know its natural, but I try to get people to see motion and color in my work, to break outside of the usual representational way we see the world and to just be with the piece instead of interpreting it as something that it wasn’t intended to be.
What has been the most memorable experience you've had at one of your shows or openings?
Of the many wonderful moments and collectors, I’d have to say my greatest moment was meeting Lawrence Benenson, a member of the Board of Trustees at the MoMa, and selling him a painting from my solo show at Dop Dop in Soho. I had no intention of selling him any work, I invited him to see the show with the hopes of getting some constructive feedback. He gave me that feedback but also liked a painting enough to buy it. I was thrilled and it was a huge vote of confidence.
How important is your creative space to your work?
I am a very organized creature of comfort, so having a clean space with good music that feels warm and welcoming is important for me given how many hours I spend in my studio. I’d prefer to have more natural light but I trade the light for privacy, quiet and the ability for work at 4am without disturbing anyone. Anything to enter the studio has to be cleaned, or transferred into clean containers, placed in the right area for its use (stretchers by the building table and paint by the easel) and all completed art is stored in a self-made 7x7ft rack so its protected and out of harm's way. I like my studio to be a clear of other visual stimulation so I’m always emptying it of clutter and reorganizing it to keep the energy fresh. I plan to gut the space and rebuild walls when the time and budget allow.
5 tools / products I can’t live without:
Stretchers, canvas rolls, a large tub of both black and white Golden Acrylic, my staple gun, and a palette knife.