The MoCA presents
an interview with
The MoCA conducts interviews with prominent artists who have gained wide recognition, as well as emerging artists who have shown exceptional potential in their fields. The published interviews help our readers learn about some of the most promising artistic voices of our times.
The MoCA conducted an in-depth interview with artist Erica Aitken. In it, she answers a wide-ranging interpretation of her works. The mood of the interview was conversational and so has been lightly edited for relevance and clarity.
I am a silkscreen artist and a politically progressive activist.
The MoCA > Hello, and welcome to THE MAGAZINE OF CONTEMPORARY ART! Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit your site in order to learn more about your art.
The MoCA > Now let’s start from the top. tell us briefly who you are and what you do.
I live in California and have been in the States for many years. I was born in Belgium where I went to a contemporary art school. I have worked all of my life in design, publishing, technical control over output and colors. I currently work for Rods and Cones, a business I founded with a partner. We are scraping ourselves off the floor after the spectacular COVID-19 that occurred in March and April. In addition, I am a silkscreen artist and a politically progressive activist.
Ian and Aurora
I had just spent the day contemplating the work of sexual and religious weirdos.
The MoCA > Tell us a bit about your background. What life experiences have helped you become a more successful artist?
I believe that an artist is shaped by life experience. Either you live long and through a lot, or you experience a lot and acutely in a short time… Or you have a very strong artistic core. I went to art school and graduated a long time ago. At the time, I knew right away that I didn’t have what it takes to be an artist and hoped that would change eventually. A career, bunch of kids, heart-felt highs and lows later, and I finally and proudly call myself an artist.
The MoCA > Any memorable experiences that have influenced your artistic evolution?
No, not anything in particular. But an honest self-awareness, a strong sense of social justice which comes with almost constant frustrations, and the itch to start putting all that on paper.
2020 is such an amazing point in our lives, the absurdity, the neverending succession of bummer after bummer, all the while having to put up with one of the most outrageous leadership.
Ok, Who Did This?
The MoCA > The one thing constant about art is that it’s always changing. How have you experimented with these changes?
Do you mean the evolution of art? That’s true and it’s always changing. But it’s easy to see each step as it makes its way into history, well, mostly easy. There are two ways to look at art. One is to be a scholar that observes the progress of art as it makes its way through history and to today. It’s difficult because you must always be aware and curious. Esthetic beauty rarely is a factor, an easy thing to understand if you consider Duchamps’ art, a toilet placed in a museum. A lot of contemporary art is like that and still finds its place in art. The second way is to understand and accept your aesthetics and gut feeling and love what you love without apology or embarrassment. Recently, I spent 6 hours in the famous Prado in Madrid. My feeling, when I got out, was that I had just spent the day contemplating the work of sexual and religious weirdos. And if you think a statement like that ignores history, culture, etc., remember that Rembrandt hated religious commissions and it shows in his work. You won’t find any weird stuff in his work…
The MoCA > We find your biography quite interesting, especially when we merge this with your art. How has your professional experiences influenced your current artistic goals?
I am a graphic designer whose ambition was to publish a magazine. I also wanted to prove that I could start a successful technical business which I did with Rods and Cones. A few years ago, we published a rich digital magazine called Out of Chaos. It was the highlight of my career but only lasted a few years for lack of readers. Our work is to manage color, insure that what you see on your monitor will match what you print, at that simple level and in much more complex situations. All this together gave me the opportunity to print art prints, work for printers, illustrators, and to write and edit fine copy. This constant exposure to the tools of art, and art reproductions, coupled with a constant itch to draw, gave me an arsenal of things to try, from pencil to color, to paints, to Epsons, to silkscreen and all of that sometimes mixed into one.
Alisa y Camillo
I spend the most time upfront, feeding the seed of an idea in my head, trying to visualize how what amounts to feelings actually look.
The MoCA > Your body of works is set on a recurrent theme that’s quite apt in the times we’re going through. In particular, the commonplace characters you visualize obviously gives a strong societal message. But is there a multilayered visual experience you’re going for?
The Essential Workers series does have multiple layers, ranging from the simple message that we should thank those amazing people who continued to work so we could shelter in place during COVID-19. Although doctors and nurses are also amazing and are featured in the series, it saddened me to see that people would bang pots every night to thank the medical community for their work while ignoring the army of often low-wage earners who would show up every day with a smile to do their work. The social layer of it is the obvious one, to make sure that these people are recognized as valuable and indispensable, and that they are heroes. On the execution level, I loved being carried into these pieces, letting unpredictability into the mix, printing with different techniques of which none is consistent, predictable or repeatable. Every piece, once the last color down, was a delightful surprise.
The MoCA > We were also impressed with the subtle obscurity you present in the way you portray these characters. Is this intentional?
That’s my naturally sunny personality (J). 2020 is such an amazing point in all of our lives, the absurdity of it, the neverending succession of bummer after bummer, all the while having to put up with one of the most outrageous leadership. A band of clowns who hold our wellbeing into their grubby greedy hands. The day, only a few weeks ago, when I saw a red sky at noon, and nightfall at 4, is the day I truly lived what we have all been expecting for a while, the destruction of our planet, way of life, civility. That attitude drips into a lot of what I do today.
The MoCA > Describe the usual process through which you guide your workflow. How exactly do you create these works?
The Essential Workers series is a bit different because it was a series and required conceptualization really only once, at the beginning. Usually, I spend the most time upfront, feeding the seed of an idea in my head, trying to visualize how what amounts to feelings actually look. I have a ton of digital images I’ve saved that come to mind when the head stuff starts to materialize. For instance, the next series is about anxiety, fear, aloneness, feelings of losing control and of uncertainty. They haunt most of us since March when we all, the whole world, slunk into our homes and wouldn’t come out. How amazing is that? Anyway, over the years, I have been capturing screenshots from streaming movies and shows. They are blurry, beautiful, and haunting. But they mean little as screenshots. They have been the base for silkscreen prints.
What happens after that? I bring an image into Photoshop. I have developed a way to separate color into four or five layers, using a technique I’ve sorted out that yields a dot rather than the rosette you see in offset printing. This technique offers much less accuracy than a 4/color separation but allows for experimenting with color and transparency. I sometimes mix dot and contrast, as I did with “Joe” and “Abraham” I can’t say that this process is completely under control but I like it because it allows for different moods and levels of abandonment. I thrive on accidents and unforeseen occurrences even if I sometimes have to throw the whole lot out and start over.
The MoCA > This is something all artists hear multiple times, but we have to ask: What inspires you?
Mostly life around me, the social aspect of it, and sometimes some inner personal hang up that wants out.
I did a series on what you discover in tiles, the depth, the story, all ephemeral and otherworldly.
New Reality, Essential Workers Series
The MoCA > How exactly do you seek out your subjects?
For the Essential Workers series, I met almost all of the people who are in the series. That was a great experience especially since many of them, in spite of their