Artist Talk With Erik Sommer
By Amit Kanfi
Drywall and joint compound
Tell us about yourself.
I am a painter and sculptor based in New York. I have had a studio in Manhattan for 15+ years and recently bought land upstate to build a studio on as well. My work is very much rooted in the city; it is gritty and textural and about the effects of time. I am very comfortable in New York and think that my work demonstrates this comfort and understanding.
Where did your passion for art begin?
My passion for art began with music. I have always loved music and constantly surround myself with it. In around 2000 after attending a university in Minnesota I began a band with some friends. We toured and made a living with it for a few years but by 2005 I was ready to move to New York and focus more on visual art. The chance to be alone in the studio suited me. I enjoy being alone in a quiet room with no disturbances. It allows me to think and day dream and work without being interrupted.
How would you describe your work to someone?
I would describe my work as being about our attempt to control the effects of time. The work looks very old and broken and aged. I make the material look this way in my studio, so I am essentially speeding up and then freezing the aging process. Throughout the years I have learned how to control and manipulate the different materials that I use, and have also learned to put a finish on the work when I am done to preserve it. I am very much influenced by urban decay, concrete buildings, abandoned buildings, graffitti, faded sidewalks, and worn cement. I want to call attention to the beauty that exists in these instances.
street posters and paint on canvas
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a few large drywall and joint compound sculptures. I made a few small pieces that were recently in a show at Marquee Projects in NY. Now I am taking the same idea but making them big, like 5 feet tall. I am excited to see how they turn out.
When you start a new work or project, do you plan what you’re going to create or do you improvise?
When I start a new project I have a pretty good idea of how it will turn out, but I do allow for improvisation and chance to play a role. I like reacting to the material when unexpected things happen. For example, with these new large drywall sculptures I pretty much know how they will turn out but will still use the 'accidents' that always occur. Sometimes these accidents turn out to be the most interesting part. I think it is important to allow for chance and the unexpected as a way to help the work remain fresh and honest. If something is too perfect or too predictable it loses being genuine.
Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how your influences have made an impact on you and your practice?
A lot of my influences are musicians. I treat my career as a musician or band would. I know it is sort of cheesy but I approach everything like an indie band would. I am not looking to be a one-hit-wonder, or an overnight success. I would rather create the work that I want to create and that is meaningful to me, and build up my audience authentically and over time. Because of this I am very picky and selective about where I choose to show my work. The goal is to have a career when I can live off of my work but keep the control to make the art I want to make. Examples of musicians I admire are Doug Martsch from Built to Spill, or some of the punk DIY bands from the 90s.
There are also a lot of artists that I enjoy and whose work excites me. The first real big influence was Christo and Jeanne-Claude, specifically their piece Valley Curtain. This piece made me understand that art is more than just paintings on the wall. It helped me think bigger.
A lot of the contemporary artists I really like happen to be my friends. We all show or are involved with this gallery in Brooklyn called Deli Grocery. Paul Cooley runs it, and I have found a home there with like-minded people. It is nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, or just reach out and say hey. Instagram has helped with this, and is a tool most artists I know use to stay connected.
street posters and paint on canvas
street posters and drywall on canvas
92cm x 92cm
What are your plans for the remainder of this year?
The rest of the year should be pretty exciting. I will be upstate for the summer, in the Catskills, and I just found a huge old barn that I can use as a studio. I am excited to be out of the city for a while and sort of on my own just working with no distractions. There are talks of a group show in Berlin, so hopefully that comes through. A few galleries in Los Angeles have been reaching out too, so there will be some studio visits coming up. It is very exciting and should be a productive time.
I should mention, I also run a contemporary art project site called Mott Projects. Keep an eye out for new interviews being released soon. I am starting to think about curation projects too with some of the artists I have previously interviewed.