Erin Currier’s artwork has been featured in numerous solo shows, and is exhibited and collected internationally. She describes her pieces as “part portraiture, part collage constructed of disinherited consumer ‘waste’ collected in nearly 50 countries, part sociopolitical archive, but wholly humanist.” A former Taoseña, Currier lives and works in Santa Fe. In this email interview with Tempo, Currier discusses her work, philosophy and her current exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art.
Currier’s exhibit, “La Frontera,” is one of two solo exhibits by contemporary women artists under the overall title “Work by Women,” which opens to the public Saturday (Feb. 10) at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street. Regular museum admission prices apply.
The other solo exhibit, “Sisters of War,” highlights the work of Diné artist Jolene Nenibah Yazzie, who has painted Native American comic-art style women warriors directly onto the gallery walls. (For more, see “Wonder Woman Redux” in the Jan. 18 issue of Tempo). Concurrently, pattern art by Helen Gene Nichols will be on view in the museum’s Studio 238 (see sidebar).
“Work by Women” also highlights the art by contemporary and past women artists in the Harwood’s collection, such as Frances Varos Graves, Anita Rodríguez, Maye Torres, Catharine Critcher, Mary Blumenschein, Mary Ufer, Lucy Case Harwood, Rachel Brown, Joan Loveless, Kristina Wilson and Agnes Martin.
Tempo: For how long have you been working on the pieces that are part of the exhibit La Frontera?
Erin Currier: The pieces in La Frontera span from 2003-2017 and are a survey from my larger body of work (some 400-500 pieces) created during the course of my 20 years as a working artist.
Although these works are from various series created through the years, all share in common the fact that each one is either a direct or symbolic representation of those engaged in the international struggle for social justice — be it individuals such as Leticia y Andrea, and American Schoolboy, or be it groups of people: Indigenous women from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, members of the Black Panther Party, Fiesta Queens. I see beauty inherent in the strength and courage that are necessary attributes of those engaged in struggle, resistance, and defiance, against the catastrophic onslaught of globalization, capitalism, fascism, and ecological devastation.
Tempo: Your work addresses sociopolitical issues. Why do you feel it is important that art is used to address these issues? What inspires you right now as an artist?
Currier: I truly believe that, for every tactic employed by those seeking to oppress and subjugate others, for every shackle and chain utilized, there are a thousand ways to unlock, untangle, and break through, those chains. This is why a counter-power rooted in imagination is crucial. That is why art is crucial. There is no one way to attain liberation: each method must be appropriate to the situation at hand, utilizing the information and tools available at the time. For example, in 17th Century England, “sowing the ground with parsnips, carrots, and beans” was considered an act of treason: it was the signature action of the Diggers, gardeners who had been impoverished by England’s sudden and arbitrary process of enclosing and privatizing the Commons. The humble act was the Diggers’ means by which to alleviate hunger, and free themselves from servitude and slavery. Guerilla gardening is an effective act of resistance to this day.
The Black Panthers occupying the statehouse was another, and very different, effective method. Factory workers occupying and running defunct maquilladoras in Argentina is a third example. Immolating oneself, the only recourse for Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, is yet another example, of which there are countless (and upon which so many of my own works are inspired). The nonviolent methods of the Water Protectors at the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota — chaining themselves to bulldozers, linking arms, crawling inside pipes, etc., has had unprecedented reverberations throughout the world. Even if the literal battle is lost and the pipeline is built, the resistance nonetheless is already successful — as it has succeeded in galvanizing Native Americans across hundreds of tribes, as well as peoples all over the U.S. and the world.
The struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline has unified peoples across geographic, ethnic, racial, class boundaries in a wholly organic and infectious way — already it has sparked direct actions in defense of the natural world internationally. Women’s rights movements are similarly igniting like wildfires across the world. What is most crucial is respect for one another and dignity for all.
Tempo: What initially inspired you to start using consumer “waste” in your art?
Currier: Nearly 20 years ago, I was studying Buddhist Thangkha Painting, and doing a Buddhist practice. I was working at a coffee shop at the time, and was struck by how much trash was generated and discarded during the course of a single shift. So, I began gathering this post-consumer waste, bringing it home, and employing Thangkha painting techniques, including sacred geometry, to collage Buddhas and Bodhisattvas — eventually exhibiting this work at the café: it was my first solo exhibition in 1998.
My use of trash made sense to me on a number of levels, and, the reasons behind it, like the works themselves, are multilayered. First, I believe that artists have always used materials close-at-hand. Nowhere is this perhaps more apparent than in New Mexico — where Bulteros use discarded, weather-worn pieces of wood; potters use clay dug right from the earth, etc. I am no exception. I use what is most readily available, prevalent, and ubiquitous to my era—discarded packaging and product waste from our globalized consumer culture. Secondly, my use of trash is a spiritual practice in the sense that the discarded waste is transfigured, hopefully, into something of beauty.
Finally, using post-consumer waste is a socio-political act in that, not only is it a form of recycling, but also by virtue of the fact that it is written in every language, and gathered from every continent it expresses our interconnectedness and our commonalities as human beings—in what we value, share, consume, and cast away.
Tempo: How do you feel about having a solo show at the Harwood?
Currier: It is a profound honor. The Harwood is one of my favorite museums on Earth. I cannot tell you how many times I have attended openings and viewed shows over the years with countless friends. It is especially moving to me as it was the dream of my dear friend and longtime Taos gallerist, Stephen Parks — who, together with his wife, my dear friend Joni Tickel, owned the legendary Parks Gallery — that a solo exhibition of some of my large-scale works (as well as solo exhibitions of my Parks colleagues and friends-- such as Jim Wagner and Arthur Lopez) might one day be exhibited at the Harwood Museum of Art. He worked hard during his lifetime on behalf of all of us.
I am especially excited to be in such company as Jolene Nenibah Yazzie, Agnes Martin, Anita Rodríguez, and others! Even after having seen many of the world’s wonders, the masterpieces of modern and ancient civilizations, and having met exceptional artists on every continent; I have found that New Mexico inspires me more than any other place. The reason being its incomparable artists — many whom are trained in Native and Hispanic traditional techniques — who are able to comment on sociopolitical issues within the framework of these traditions in masterful works unique to the world.
On Friday (Feb. 9), a Members Reception (with friends and collectors of the artist welcome) will be given from 5-7 p.m. A concurrent public reception is planned for “Industrial Paisley” by Helen Gene Nichols in the museum’s Studio 238 is planned from 4-6 p.m.There is no cost to attend either reception.
Regular museum admission prices are $10, $8 seniors and students, free to youth age 18 and under. Members of the Harwood Museum Alliance, University of New Mexico faculty and students, military with ID and their families, and Taos County Residents every Sunday are free.
For more information, call (575) 758-0926 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.
Studio 238: “Industrial Paisley” by Helen Gene Nichols
Pattern work by local artist Helen Gene Nichols are featured in an exhibit titled “Industrial Paisley” which opens with a reception Friday (Feb. 9), 4-6 p.m., in the Harwood Museum’s Studio 238. It is part of the Winter-Spring exhibition “Work By Women” at the museum opening the same weekend.
“In the series, Nichols presents work through a fully immersive installation of patterned paper and scrolls that adorn one entire wall of the Peter & Madeleine Martin Atrium Gallery on the second floor of the Harwood Museum of Art,” a Harwood press release states. “These ‘eye-popping’ designs come from her love of hotrods and surfboard illustrations, finding inspiration from the chopper detailing culture of Southern California. Her designs are playful and humorous, expressing the mechanical and the industrial, yet reveal a clean and clear message that plays with the eyes as the foreground and background vibrate before the viewer.”
The artist states, “I began designing patterns so I could use my own paper, folding origami. There was no looking back.” And, her use of the patterns has no limits. As a working artist in the digital age, she takes part in the on-demand, digital printing industry that prints custom fabric, wallpaper, and posters from independent artists from all over the world. Thus, her work has adorned anything from bedsheets to shirts, handbags to scarves.
Her artist statement reads: “I love designing work that is modern, but nods to the optimistic early industrial illustrations and their details. I admire humor almost more than anything, so if I can incorporate both in a single image, so much the better.”
Nichols work represents a growing movement of Taos artists that are dependent upon digital platforms for the representation of their works. This platform provides the exposure of their creativity, with the artist’s work uploaded digitally, allowing third-party manufactures to create on-demand products to be shipped all over the world. Art, fine art, design and craft merge as a new evolution of Taos artists base themselves digitally in Taos while having their work manufactured and shared with the world.
Nichols has a degree in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute. She worked in commercial photography in Omaha, Neb. and then to work as a member of the Art Directors Guild in the Motion Picture Industry in Los Angeles. She is currently a Freelance Computer Art and Graphics Artist. She has shown her work in the Midwest and the West Coast. This is her first show in Taos.
Admission to this reception open to the public and free of charge.