Interview with Ericka Walker
1.Did you always know/think you would be an artist?
I wanted to be an artist since I was very young, probably as young as 7 years of age. I never assumed I would be successful in professional terms. I knew I could choose to study art and I was grateful that I had the opportunity to do so. However, I recall my undergraduate education involving a bit of anxiety as to whether I would have the right mixture of skills and personality traits to turn that education into a productive, recognized artistic practice. I had been looking at historic and contemporary art since I was young and I knew how many amazing artists were out there. I thought it would be immensely presumptuous to assume I could have a place among them. I assumed that being an artist involved going through a few rites of passage and involved attaining certain benchmarks before one could truly consider themselves an artist. I am no longer married to that line of thinking, it feels outdated, and elitist. Regardless, I had just enough nerve to give a it a hardy try - to attempt to meet those benchmarks. I am still operating with that same nerve, hoping to build and maintain a practice that I believe is meaningful and that is directed at the appropriate audience. Now that I am considered a professional artist and have had some success in my field I enjoy thinking about how my 10, 15, or 20 year old self would react if I could show her what I am doing or if I could tell her what I’ve been invited to participate in. I know she would be overjoyed.
2.What kind of environment helps you create art?
I’ve observed over the years that I appreciate being able to participate in both the communal, shared environment of a print shop and the private, solitude of my home studio. I think having a good dose of both of these environments is productive for me. Spending the right amount of time in both of them seems to encourage a studio practice that feels balanced, inspired, and sustainable. In the print shop I feel useful to others and excited about the ideas and materials they are working with. I am fiercely protective of my solitary studio time so that I can focus exclusively on the relationships between content, design, and mark making. In the last four years I have learned that being outside, being physically active, and eating well are indispensable to maintaining a healthy relationship with my studio work. I’ve always intellectually know this might be the case but I allowed myself to be swallowed up in overcommitment and an often myopic sense of purpose, first in graduate school and then at the beginning of my professional career in academia. I made some good work then but it felt more like a battle than it needed to.
3.What art movements/ artists/ things influence your work?
I would like to cite a lot of varied influences but the most obvious works that drive my practice are two very different genres of graphic art works. I am frequently looking at state sponsored propaganda imagery/text combinations (posters, broadsides, etc) developed since the mid 19th century. This work is often referred to as :Integration Propaganda” Alongside those works I am just as attracted to and interested in the posters and prints produced by organizations and individuals that have been working to liberate people from oppressive imperialist regimes, or corrupt political and economic realities, or from social, racial, and religious oppression (Agitation Propaganda). These works can be seen to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum from the propaganda aimed to integrate populations into cooperative consent and in many respects they are. However, many of the illustrative, and textual strategies used in these works share surprising similarities. Additionally, they share other qualities, namely their intention to define shared identity within a community or population through the combination of imagery and text. In addition to image, text combos I am intrigued by a variety of orchestrated efforts used to galvanize enthusiasm and support for the groups, clans, regions, nations that humans might identify with. I am currently watching the Winter Olympics - so many grand orchestrations of national pride. The possible outcomes of inspiring this pride are curious and not as simple as encouraging consumption though that is clearly one of the larger motives at play. The sociological complexity involved in mobilizing propaganda, the gross potential for massive deception, and the artistry of national pageantry have been constant interests of mine for a decade or more now.
4.Why lithographs? Was there a particular moment when you decided to pursue your medium over others?
I have never been wildly enthusiastic about working with lithography. I’ve softened to it some over the years but my choice to use it was always bred of practicality. I think it’s an incredible medium and over the last five years it seems there is no end to learning about what the materials and processes can accomplish. The reason I work with it so frequently is because it fit so well with the ideas that I wanted to work with. When I was conceiving of a series of posters I realized that they had to be done lithographically and that despite my past frustrations with the process I had to sort it out. Most of the graphic art that I wanted to emulate was printed lithographically and I wanted to maintain a close relationship with that history. 10 years later I’ve realized that utilizing lithography, because of the time commitment and expense involved, I imposed limitations on myself. Limitations especially in the form of how many layers or colour runs I was willing to do. The projects I’ve done that involved screen printing, because of the ease and speed of use and because of how cheaply it can be done, resulted in the addition of more and more layers, more and more colour. The options seemed endless and this caused the work to transform in ways that I don’t think would have translated well into the poster work. I also prefer oil based ink, the way it absorbs into the paper and the pigment quality of lithographic inks. Even if 99 out of 100 people couldn’t tell the difference, I can, and for now, that matters.
5.How do you decide on a body of work or theme and how do you know when it is complete? Do you plan out a series in advance, or do you let it evolve as you go?
I do often plan a series in advance - typically I spend a couple months doing research for and designing a series of 10 to 15 pieces. Throughout that process, as I refine the designs, that number usually shrinks a bit. I’ll often finish six or eight of them. I allow myself to consider the series as open, that I can pursue the other designs once those first six are complete. With that logic I have two ongoing series that may or may not be readdressed and added to over the course of the next few years. I am currently working on a series of 22 and I envision it being complete once they are all printed. I’m fairly certain that of those 22, only 15 or so will be “successful”. I’ve become more patient and forgiving when it comes to these cast offs. I used to feel frustrated that I’d put all this time and energy into research, design, drawing, and printing only to shove it away in a drawer with disappointment. It doesn’t happen with alarming frequency but it happens and I just take it as part of the process. I learn a lot from those works. I am also working on an ongoing series of screenprints combined with graphite rubbings. I don’t think these are on my new website yet. These are a secondary line of inquiry that I utilize when I am invited to participate in portfolio exchanges. They involve finding historic markers and plaques and taking rubbings from different parts of the text in order to create new slogans or phrases. I like the idea of destabilizing the assuredness of political rhetoric. I especially love the opportunity to make editions outside and in public while learning about the priorities of the dominant culture through their odd commemorative monuments. I’ve attached a few images.