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 smiles, felt unappreciated or kind of trapped. To talk to them was a lesson in humility. I think I’d feel the same way if I had had the chance to meet RBD…. For the rest of my work, which you haven’t seen much of, it depends. For years, I’ve seen stories unfold in stone tiles that are everywhere, shower, floor, etc. I did a series on what you discover in tiles, the depth, the story, all ephemeral and otherworldly. I’ve done a few pieces that are highly personal, driven from a deep well of stuff inside me. And others that are observation, a detail of a Klimt painting found in a configuration of rock in nature, for example. All this might seem all over the place but it isn’t.
The MoCA > How does your own psychological make-up determine the subjects you choose?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I can tell you that I’m often angry, deeply involved socially and with a deep almost animal whisperer way with animals. I am politically active and, I think, selfless in the sense that I fight for future generations rather than for mine and my generations’ interests. But all that probably doesn’t say much. I think that most artists are artists because they’re not all that good at understanding who they are.
Jesus, Essential Workers
[He] is a young friend, also an artist, who lives under a constant threatening cloud because he is a DACA (Dreamer).
The MoCA > We sometimes tend to ignore the fact that a work of art is a physical artefact with tactile qualities. Let’s consider your works “Joe” or “Carlos,” who are really thinking, breathing people like you and me. In such a work, how do you consider the relation between the abstract nature of your creative process and the physical aspect of your subjects?
That was the highlight of that project. I already knew Joe and Carlos. Joe is a young friend, also an artist, who lives under a constant threatening cloud because he is a DACA (Dreamer). This paralyzes him to some extent and he’s frustrated. He’s also just a cool human being and a good artist and, once his status stabilizes, he will fly away and live how he wants to live. Carlos is someone I know less but like. He’s been working nonstop since the beginning of Covid19. He told me one day that he loves this job, especially now that many are cooped up, because he brings things to people that they want and are happy to see.
The MoCA > Essential workers are recurrent in your imagery. What fascinates you about them?
I’ve said a lot about them but, mostly, I admired their willingness to put their health and lives on the line while we stayed home. Remember that, at the beginning of shelter in place, we were all terrified, including them. And yet, either because it’s what you do when you have a job, or because they were threatened with losing their jobs, they braved what we all perceived as unforeseen odds to get to work every day.
I have become the sum of career and art ...in different countries, of different generations, race, and everything that makes us unique.
Nancy, Essential Workers
The MoCA > You’ve had an interesting career, not all of which has concentrated on pure artistic talents. How do you consider the relationship between your art and your career?
They go hand in hand on many levels. Pragmatically, because I’ve worked for artists, and with them, I’ve had access to fun expensive tools like Epson printers, and met many people who devoted their lives to color, design, even perfection. On another level, over the years, I have become the sum of career and art, and also of a life led among tons of different people, in different countries, of different generations, race, and everything else that makes us unique.
The MoCA > Have you had the opportunity to showcase your artworks in many different settings? If so, how do you consider the nature of your relationship with your audience?
I haven’t. I’m surprised at how uninvested most people I know are in my art. It’s difficult to get a show although I have an upcoming one in a local coffee shop. It sounds down but it isn’t. First, it’s an honor to be selected to show here with you. And, at this point, it’s not about recognition really (although that’s always nice) It’s about doing something that I feel is strong, beautiful, and tells the story of our lives. It’s a heady feeling when you create something and you just know you’ve hit it exactly as you wanted.
Road Worker, Essential Workers
[O]nce the elections are over, if I haven’t fled the country in disgust, I will happily get back to this series on anxiety.
The MoCA > At the end of the day, if there’s one thing you’d hope your audience to take away from these works, what would it be?
I guess it would mean a lot to me if what I create, which is essentially how I see and feel things, could be shared by others. My favorite artist is Gerhard Richter. When I look at his work, I am physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Or, last year, I saw for the first time an exhibit of the work of Vija Clemins whom, I am absolutely sure, did not receive the same recognition than her male counterparts because she is a woman. Her work absolutely bowled me over. How incredible can it be to discover someone new to you that excites so many senses? Well, this may be reaching for the stars but that kind of delight, that’s what I hope that my work will incite even if only for one person.
The MoCA > We have really appreciated the timeliness of your artistic pursuit. Before we end this stimulating conversation, we would like to thank you for chatting with us and for sharing your thoughts. Moving forward, what projects are you currently working on, and what are some of the ideas that you hope to explore in the future?
I mentioned the series on anxiety which is consuming me as much as possible in times of elections. I’m deeply involved in local campaigns and they take all of my time. But, once the elections are over, if I haven’t fled the country in disgust, I will happily get back to this series on anxiety. It seems like, unwittingly, I’m telling stories of 2020 through art. So much left to do! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.