The following text was created as afterthoughts from my studio visit with Erin King. Erin is a visual artist working out of Missouri, USA and she is currently a MFA candidate for the Mizzou School of Visual Studies. The studio visit took place on 6 May, 2018.
As I entered Erin King’s studio, I found a space I could describe as mixed between a fibre laboratory and a depository for a low-budget, American band class. Her studio space was filled with odd arrangements of weaving, fabrics, raw materials, paper pulp, and worn musical instruments. Some instruments were intact like her piano and her brass horns. Others had become disassembled into smaller fragments, like her second piano ( yes, Erin has two pianos). Some instruments had also been consumed by webs of paper pulp, thread, yarn and plastic. There were several artworks hanging from the walls and some other objects being arranged on the floor or on desktops. Adding to the aesthetic were storage shelves that lived in the corner of Erin’s studio. The shelves held bottles of paint, glue, found objects, stacks of artist catalogues and bits of paper containing notes, highlighted texts, musical scores and drawings.
It was apparent that Erin had a lot brewing in her mind and in her studio practice. I walked around the studio and she began sharing her thoughts about her recent readings and her recent art-making. She mentioned her reinforced understanding for creating artworks and describing them through her dual identities as both a visual artist and a musician, which she gets from growing up in a very musically inclined household. She told me about the authority and the passion she gains from her practice when she uses her understanding of visual arts and musical arts in conjunction to engage with her audiences. However, she still acknowledged that her understanding could create disconnects and she would need to be cautious of becoming near-sighted with her work.
Erin also spoke to me about various artists she had studied and told me why she thought they were useful for her own practice. She spoke about Anni Albers and Margaret Wertheim because of her appreciation for the challenges they addressed within the tactile construction of their weaving. She spoke about Meredith Monk and John Cage because of their influential roles for composing music and creating new formats for music presentations with the assistance of the visual and performing arts. Finally, she spoke to me about Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Piet Mondrian because of how they used abstraction to draw out the essence of their content. She was particularly fixated on Mondrian for creating modes of abstraction that separated the irrelevant materials which surrounded his interest.
Much of this information I found educational and interesting. I was amused to see how comfortable Erin was with talking to me about her work and her research. I could tell that she was really enjoying herself. As she continued to speak, my eyes wondered around the room again, and I began to question some of the individual artworks I was seeing. I found myself puzzled by how Erin’s various interests and various works could be managed together into a single exhibition package? This thought arose because I was aware that Erin was due for her MFA thesis showcase in 2019. After chasing my thought, I decided to sit in a chair placed at the edge of Erin's studio and I ask her: “What you are making for your thesis show? Which of these artworks will be included in it?” She smiled at me while looking over her glasses. It seemed that she was waiting for these questions. She answered: " Many of these works could be included into my thesis exhibition. I am currently interpreting data from my drawings placed onto a music notation matrix (similar to that of music box paper strips); I am drawing lines to connect chord clusters; identifying the notes in each chord cluster; interpreting the height of the lines drawn to determine dynamic level (loudness) of those notes; and interpreting the spacing between the drawn lines to determine the rhythm of the notes in the composition...
Once I have all of this data, I will create an 8-part music composition. And when the music composition is complete, I will re-interpret that information into systems of circles for each voice/instrument part, which will result in the creation of 8 sculptures which represent and pair with its corresponding voice/instrument part. I am trying to achieve a sort of consideration and equal importance for every part of the artwork, or "gesamtkunstwerk". I am hoping to present something which is greater than the sum of its parts." After this impressive and technical explanation, I smiled back at Erin and couldn’t help but wonder over to her second piano (the disassembled one). I began playing on it.
I have known Erin for some time. I graduated from the University of Missouri (Mizzou) in May 2017 with my Bachelors of Art degree. The university is located in Missouri, USA and it is the same university where Erin is currently completing her Masters of Fine Art programme. In winter 2016-Spring 2017, I was privileged to be Erin’s studio neighbor along with several other talented MFA and BFA candidates. I watched her practice transform through many mental and aesthetic shifts when I was near her. Now that I have been living and working abroad, I returned to Erin’s space and I witnessed a mature stage in her metamorphosis. If you are a studio artist, an art professor, an art critic or avidly follow a studio artist, then you have recognized this metamorphosis I am writing about. It is that series of stages a visual artist will follow when evolving their studio practice. The metamorphosis usually starts with the artist learning a skill; then the artist wants to advance the skill; the artist retrieves space to advance the skill; the artist creates methods to make art within their space; and finally, the artist uses those methods till their skills are matured. When I visited Erin in May 2018, she was in the final stage. She was at the point where she was becoming empowered from the “madness” of her studio space and she found authority from her developing skills, which allowed her to be hyper productive and create lots of interesting artwork, fast. It was a great stage for her to be in during the second year of her MFA programme.
It was also exciting to note that Erin was not alone. There were several other candidates from the Mizzou's School of Visual Studies that had reached this stage of productivity within their studio practice. There seemed to be a lot of potential rising from the school's quiet atmosphere. It was inspiring for me to see this productivity despite all the current political and social issues that were (and still are) traveling around the USA. Smaller art schools like Mizzou's School of Visual Studies are working to remain strong and continue to expand their resources so that their students can have the space needed to mature in their practice. The dynamics of college education seem to be changing in the USA, due to the increasing expense of a college programmes and the availability of online programmes. I suspect that smaller art schools like Mizzou will become rare. They will have to continually restructure to remain competitive and relevant. In the meantime, I hope that students like Erin appreciate the quiet atmosphere supplied to them from their programme. In my opinion, it is a great place for them to work uninterrupted, expand their practice and mature.
For more about Erin King's work, visit her website: https://www.erinkingart.com/.