ART CRUSH: ERICA STEINER

One of my faaavorite pastimes, other than pinning stuff like this, is learning about new artists. San Francisco-based artist Erica Steiner was an immediate art crush.

It's rare that an artist statement pulls me in before the work itself, but that's how things went down with this art crush. Her statement really made me think. One part in particular - Erica says her paintings "explore the idea that the basic human drive to ornament the material world is fundamentally innate..." What an intriguing thought, eh? Something innate, inherent within us, wants to - nay has to! - decorate or ornament our surroundings. After reading that, I had to know and see more.

Erica's beautifully ornate pattern work incorporates elements of landscape, textile design, and abstraction, as well as shows influences of traditional Indian and Aboriginal painting, psychedelic art, graphic design, Japanese landscape painting, medieval Catholic illuminated manuscripts,  mid-century modernism, and Victorian imagery. Whoa-za. Are you blown away yet?

Not only is her work physically layered - in oil and gold leaf on canvas - but the layers of meaning behind her work are equally rich and complex. I love artists who really think about their work and, in turn, make us think right along with them.

When I learned I'd have the opportunity to interview Erica for the blog, I may have done a tiny spontaneous happy dance (or several throughout the week)...

1. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always been in love with art, and I’ve almost always made art. I remember as a kid telling my mom that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and maybe because she was so excited and encouraging about it (go mom!), I think that from a young age, I took it on as a future vision for myself. That said, it was not until I was in my late twenties, hiking on a mountain in Kauai, that I realized—remembered—that it was time to really devote myself to it.

2. Who's your favorite artist and why (gotta ask)?

It totally depends on the day. Lately, I’ve been admiring paintings focused on architectural and interior spaces—the works of Sarah Dougherty, Jonas Wood, and Kate Lewis; I’ve recently started working in clay (which I LOVE), and have become obsessed with the elegant, surrealist porcelain works of Kate MacDowell. There are also artists who just always have my heart: Julie Heffernan, Clare Rojas, Yoko Ono, Wayne Thiebaud, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo…and for good measure (and because I’m reading her autobiography), my ultimately most beloved literary heroine, author Jeanette Winterson.

3. I noticed you're on Pinterest (woot!), who's your favorite pinner to follow and why?

I love pinterest! I’m obsessed with it. There are so many great pinners out there, and I love discovering new ones. A few of my favorites are: Antmot Ant (pinterest.com/antmot), pinterest.com/MarianneGassier (for insane jewelry), artist Laura Fayer (pinterest.com/atreasuretrove), and painter Alyson Butterfield (pinterest.com/alyst/). All amazing.

4. What would you tell someone who says they "don't get" contemporary art?

I might suggest approaching it not as something to be solved or understood, but to be experienced, like meditation. Still, that usually falls flat, and isn't always true. I don't know. For me, art making is an act of investigation, of studying reality, of grappling with existence, of integrating my broken parts, and, when it's really rocking, of falling in love. I tend to assume it is for most other artists as well. I might say something like that, or, more likely, I would do a lot of ridiculous pontificating, some futile gesturing, and ultimately give up trying to explain the unexplainable.

5. What's your ultimate goal as an artist? (ie get your work in every major museum, make viewers think, sell your work and make millions?)

Honestly, I’m still working on that one; it changes and evolves. It may sound corny, but my ultimate career goal is for the work to reach every last person who will be touched by it.

6. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an artist?

Work hard. Work very, very hard. For talent to have meaning, it must be applied.

7. I loooove San Francisco - what are some of your favorite places in San Fran?

I LOVE it too…and I keep falling in love with it, over and over again (there are so many layers!). My list of favorite places is too long to name—I love Grace Cathedral (St. Martin Luther King and the cosmic goddess stained glass with her belly full of stars); I love the ferry building (Hog Island Oysters outside on a sunny day watching the ferries come in); the butterfly rainforest in the natural history museum (hold still and the butterflies will land on you).  And a walk along Parnassus Street on a spring day when the cherry blossoms are out is pretty much heaven.

A big, big thank you to Erica for providing these fabulous As to my Qs. See more of Erica's work here.