Permeated with the distance and closeness that exist in everyday moments of intimacy, ERIN WOZNIAK's oil paintings and graphite drawings offer the opportunity to contemplate human vulnerability. She meticulously renders the surface of the skin and the boundaries between individuals, emphasizing the body as the physical and psychological interface between one’s self and the external world. Erin received her BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is represented by Hammond Harkins Galleries (Bexley, Ohio), where she most recently exhibited her work in Contemporary Realism: Four Visions. In 2013, her pastel drawing Morning won “Best in Show” in the 71st Annual May Show in North Canton, Ohio. Erin lives and works in Canton, Ohio.
How is the idea of the human body as "the interface of interaction
between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside"
expressed in your work?
Erin Wozniak: My fascination with the body begins with mortality and the human fear of injury, sickness, aging and death. These are lurking threats to any sense of autonomy or control over one’s body or life. Exploring this vulnerability is central to my work. I am also interested in the way our bodies and minds are shaped by the people we know, the genes we carry and the society and culture in which we exist. The effects of this tangled, symbiotic relationship between inside and outside can literally be seen on the surface of the human body in the form of folds, wrinkles, scars, blemishes and tattoos. These are all markers of interactions and time, and this is where my obsessive rendering comes into play.
OPP: Your work strongly conveys a sense of intimacy that leads me to wonder if you are intimate with your subjects. I don't actually need to know who the subjects are to understand the work, but I do wonder if you approach drawing strangers in the same way you approach drawing family members and friends.
EW: My paintings and drawing are an extension and reflection of my life, so it is natural for me to depict family members, not to mention the convenience and comfort. I have done commissions in the past in which I’ve drawn and painted strangers, and the act of drawing and painting is very similar whether I know the subject well or not. When I draw family members I approach the drawing as if I were drawing a stranger. Drawing and painting are acts of searching and discovering; they are methods of comprehending. Whether I’m drawing a stranger or doing self-portrait, I ask myself, “Who is this person?”
OPP: Do you draw from photographs? If so, do you compose in the camera or crop images in the drawing stage? Tell us about your process.
EW: Inspiration for my work typically comes from everyday observations and evolves from there. Photography
and Photoshop allow me to compose quickly, to try different points of
perspective and lighting situations, and to decide whether an image
works better in color or grayscale. After multiple shoots, I usually
narrow down my references to a handful of photos that I will work from.
Although I rely on photography, I prefer to work from direct observation
if possible. Most of my work ends up being a composite of time spent
working both from life and photos.
OPP: Why do you prefer drawing from life? Is it about the process or the final outcome?
EW: Viewing someone from a photograph versus studying that person in three-dimensional space is a completely different experience. Working from life allows you to respond to the physical presence of someone or something and challenges you to deal with things like shifting light, subtle movement and changes over time. I like the amount of control I have when working from photography, but the unpredictability of working from life usually helps to invigorate a drawing and is a necessary part of my process. I find working from photographs alone to be limiting. Through the lens of a camera, visual information like detail, color and value are distorted from the way we optically perceive these things. I want the final outcome of my drawings and paintings to feel like more than just a superficial copy of a photograph.
OPP: Are you familiar with the photographs of Elinor Carucci? Your work reminded me a lot of her book Closer,
in which she photographs intimate moments between her and her family
members. She is often present in the shot. Because the titles of her
photographs confirm that the subjects are her family members, I feel
more like a voyeur—although an invited one—looking at her work than I do
looking at yours. I think it has something to do with the nature of
drawing versus the nature of photography. What do you think?
EW: I wasn’t familiar with her work, but thank you for bringing her to my attention. Her work is very intriguing. For me, the difference between photography and drawing is that when I look at a drawing I am pulled into the viewpoint of the artist more so than with photography. With a drawing, I think about the artist, what the artist's mark-making tells me about the person they drew and how they felt about that person.
Maybe this awareness is what makes a drawing seem physically less voyeuristic than a photograph. A photograph makes you feel as if you are right there looking at something in real life. A drawing has more artifice to it. However, the awareness of the artist that comes with viewing a drawing brings about a different kind of voyeurism—less physically jarring, but more psychological. As viewers, we enter the mental space of the artist and understand how every square inch of the subject was combed over with visual study and, in turn, every square inch of the paper was touched. This sense of touch, along with a sense of time, is what I think drawing possesses that photography cannot. More than an instant is captured in a drawing. A drawing is a compression of each moment of the ongoing struggle to capture what you are seeing and feeling on a piece of paper.
OPP:There's something sad about pieces like Estuary and Cleft, in which the subjects seem alienated from one another. But all the pieces are about people being close to one another and about the distance that is sometimes present in closeness. Do your drawings romanticize intimacy or reveal the reality of an everyday experience of it?
EW: I’d like to think that my drawings reveal a relatable reality of everyday intimacy and that they communicate a sense of distance, desire and dependence that can be present in relationships.
OPP: These drawings seem sad to me, but I think that might be too simplistic. Perhaps they just make me sad. I feel both the distance and the desire in them. How would you describe the dominant mood that pervades these drawings?
EW: I think there is a sense of sadness in trying to hold on to something, trying to hold onto a relationship or a moment in time that is constantly slipping away. A lot of my work reflects this experience. Even the process of drawing itself reflects this desire to preserve something impermanent.
OPP: Could you talk about Open Wide? This painting strikes me as quite different from the others. The blackness inside the mouth creates a sense of horror for me, like there's nothing in there. Just emptiness. Is horror or emptiness something you were thinking about?
EW: This painting is
different from others in that I strayed from reality more than usual. I
often find myself completely changing a composition in response to what I
feel a painting needs. In the case of Open Wide, I didn’t
originally plan for the mouth to be a void. While painting and
repainting the mouth, I tried painting it black, and it just worked.
When I started this painting, my intention was to create a
confrontational portrait of a woman that was equally powerful and
vulnerable. I wanted to create a Medusa-like figure that would confront
the viewer’s gaze. I think the emptiness seen inside her evokes a sense
of horror because it represents darkness or the unknown.
OPP: Is there anything in-process in your studio right now that you'd like to tell us about?
EW: I have an old painting of a wall that I started years ago. I never finished it because I lost interest. It’s a painting of an old, marked-up wall covered in chipped paint. But recently I started thinking about the wall painting in relation to a self-portrait I want to do. It’s been years since I have done a self-portrait. I started working on this painting—repainting the wall to fit seamlessly with the image of myself and mostly working from observation—probably a week after giving birth to my second child. I wanted to focus on my own image and the idea of time and change. I thought the wall would work well as the backdrop to a self-portrait, and metaphorically it makes sense.
To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwozniak.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.