Art with A Social Conscience: An Interview with Erika Rachel

by Edie Weinstein 

Photo credit:

Paint brush in hand, vivid imagination at the ready, Milford, New Jersey based artist, Erika Rachel prepares to take a leap into creative realms that some can only dream of. In fact, her abstract designs allow the viewer to feel as if they are immersed in color and texture, splashing about in the paint, reminiscent of the Robin Williams film, What Dreams May Come.
HM: Viewing your work, I was moved not only by the artwork itself but the social conscience behind it. How did you develop those sensibilities?
ER: Wow, what a compliment! Thank you! It’s hard to pinpoint one particular thing or influence that made me the way I am, in any area of my life, but I think most of the credit goes to my parents. They were both very outside the box thinkers. Mom still is, and life was never just about going to work- life was about truly experiencing the things that were happening and the emotions those experiences brought up. So, from the very start of my life, I was surrounded by insightful conversation, very reflective and often about dissecting our human nature to be able to run “it” instead of having “it” run us.
HM: Do you believe that you were born to be an artist since you have said that both of your parents were creative souls?
ER: Absolutely. I think I had to take a certain way off course path to get here, but I think I’ve found what I’m truly meant to be doing.

“Man Meets Woman” from the compatibility series. Status: available Contact for pricing.

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HM: What about people who claim not to have an artistic bone in their bodies?
ER: I tell them they’re wrong, that they just haven’t found their outlet yet. It doesn’t have to be a paintbrush, clay, or a poem. Some people are really artists when it comes to writing HTML code, or when baking! Art is much more of a verb than we give it credit for. It’s a synonym for passion in my book.
HM: If someone had never seen your artwork before, how would you describe it in a full sensory way, as in, what would it look like, feel like, taste like, smell like and sound like? I know, bizarre question!
ER: Pardon me in advance for being equal parts overly romantic and overly critical about my own work, but I think my work would look like shapes and forms either reminiscent of nature, or of a more urban likeness. My colors are sometimes soothing and blended, or contrasted in an edgy and provocative way, moving your eye about the piece. I imagine some works would feel like a snuggly blanket and everybody’s favorite lounge chair, while others would feel more like the awkward worn out seat of a waiting room, meant to look comfortable, but requiring some time and repositioning to even make it tolerable. Some works would smell like an ocean breeze at the moment you take your deepest most calming breathe, and others would smell like fresh fallen snow and the cold that smacks you in the face. I think it would sound like an orchestra, or dead silence. You can probably tell by now that I have works I consider very pleasing, and ​others that are a bit more of a challenge to be with. I cover the spectrum- there’s something for everyone.
HM: Can you tell us a little bit about the themes of your work, such as Compatibility, How To Be A Good…. and Clock Family.
ER: Many years ago, a friend of mine said he’d love to see me work in one subject for a long period of time and to make many works exploring that subject. Without me knowing it, he was describing to me what a series was. At the time, I rebuffed the idea, since I was in a more loose, playful and explorative space, but over time I started to find single subjects of focus very desirable and interesting. Since then I’ve found that I make powerful statement pieces when I focus on a concept and give it ample amounts of time and pieces to be expressed. At the point when I started working in series, my work really changed, I think for the better.
The Compatibility series is based on my learning post-divorce about relationship compatibility, and wanting to express my findings in a series of bar graphs. The  first piece titled Man Meets Woman is about two people coming together for a romance and seeing how they complement each other, and sometimes more obviously, where they don’t.
The Clock Family is a little more playful and upbeat, starting with a grandfather clock that belonged to my dad before he passed, I took a sanding block and paintbrush to it, completely changing the look and feel of this vintage family clock. Both literally and figuratively saying that you can’t turn back time.
The How to Be a Good Series came from my inquiry into the daily life of people who have taboo social roles, (a mistress, corporate lawyer, and activist) and wanting to express through color, composition and texture, what I thought their own view of life might be.
HM: I know that your father’s passing was a pivotal event in your life. How are you healing through it and is your art helping you to do so?
ER: There’s no real way to encompass that time of my life into a few paragraphs. It’s much better explained over a cup of coffee. But to plainly answer the question- the good news is, I’m healed, and yes, my art was a big help initially in doing so.
The bad news of course is that my father isn’t here anymore, so I can’t address him with silly questions about growing up or call him to ask what he’s up to in his own world.

HM: How about your hands-on, create your own painting classes?
ER: Oh, I love these! This is where I take people from timid to trained artist in about 10minutes! I’m kidding, I don’t make masters in minutes. But what I can do is open people up to expressing themselves in a way that most haven’t felt since they were kids. People surprise themselves in these workshops, and I like to call it Group Art Therapy because it’s so therapeutic for people.

I have a slight love affair with clocks. Sometimes I stray from my canvas and add to my other family of work called the “Time Series”. This series is a growing family of grandfather, grandmother, and currently, wall clocks. Each piece is titled as their size fits within the family. The first piece was “Father Time” and he was originally a family clock that I inherited after my father passed away. The clock wasn’t my taste but I loved that it had mattered to my father so much. I turned the corner and decided to deface the clock and redo it Erika Rachel style. From there the family was born. Father Time is currently available for purchase and can be seen on view at Freedom Art & Music Gallery in Frenchtown NJ. The other work in this photo is also mine, and is viewable by appointment in the studio. #father #clock #family #artist #painter #abstract #myart #artsy #crafty #interiordesign #interiordecorating #interiordesigner #available #artistsofinstagram #yellow #colorful #livingroom #diningroom #fresh #erikarachel

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HM: A little juicier question. I saw an article from 2014, I believe in which you spoke about an erotic art project. Can you elaborate?
ER: I wanted to do a show of large bedsheet sized canvases, each one would be an example of the shapes and motions imprinted by a couple engaging in a sexual act. The movement and imprint would be different from couple to couple, not only by nature of their unique style, but also by their reason for coupling. I wanted to make it a scenario based show. For example, a piece could be called “50th anniversary”, or “One Night Stand”.
HM: You also mentioned 1st Amendment Clothing Company. How is that going?
ER: First Amendment Clothing Company was my very first try at being an entrepreneur. I was 21 and loved the idea of having sayings on the fronts and backs of t-shirts that would give a partial message if you only saw one side, but give an entirely different and more empowering message if read front to back. I didn’t continue the business past two designs, but it was fun to see people appreciate the clever and playful nature of the tees I did make.
HM: Any upcoming shows? I didn’t see them on your site. What is your ideal venue?
ER: 2016 was booked solid with shows, so I decided to see what unfolded naturally for 2017 and I haven’t been disappointed! I was the regional artist for my HS art fair, participated in an all- woman show, and so many other opportunities have popped up that I’ve had the freedom to say “yes” to. The best way to find out what I’m doing is to sign up for my newsletter, found on my website.
I don’t have an ideal venue to be honest, other than a space that allows me to share my work in an effective way. I want people to be engaged, which is why I have visitors to my studio constantly. Here they can experience first- hand where I’m working, what I’m working on and how my process unfolds. People tend to be extremely relaxed and comfortable here, and they ask more questions than they would in most other venues.