JK: So you see a lot of connection between the rust and the human body?
EF: I do. It always comes back. In a positive light, I try to look for the beauty or the meaning in things that are destructive or hurtful or decaying or any of those things. I try to look for something redeeming from it. I think a lot of my work comes from that. In that same light, the third series that I have is the Roots Series.
JK: I wanted to talk about that one too because you use organic materials in the paintings. Can you talk about what those materials are?
EF: Yes absolutely. They are very personal to me. When my father who lives in Erie, he’s also an artist, sold my childhood home (the home that I grew up in and had all the ups and downs of childhood in) I went up there to the backyard where I used to play as a kid and I ripped up all these roots. I just ripped them up and saved them until they were kind of decaying, that same decay thing that I love. And I ended up… painting and gluing them into the work. Again trying to make something beautiful out of a time that maybe wasn’t so good for me.
JK: Saying goodbye to a childhood home, you mean?
JK: So when I walked into your home today, you turn right and you see this huge work right above your couch, is that part of the Roots Series?
EF: That is the first one, and that’s the one I will never sell… That one is literally called My Roots, it has the most in it… When I sit on my couch and look at it, I see it as something beautiful not dark. Some people have come into my house and seen it as really dark. But I think it is redeeming. It’s like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes. I see in it the twigs that I used to break off and make into pompoms as a little girl, little pieces of things that were good.
JK: It’s like a way to preserve more than just a photo can, the actual material.
EF: The material and the complete memory. This will not disappear.
JK: You state that this sort of organic decomposition and rust are a major component of your work and that’s mostly in your color palette. Can you talk a little bit about colors and how you go about finding those different colors? Do they come from real life sources or something else?
EF: Yes, I derive most of my palette actually from rust and organic decomposition. When I was living in Pittsburgh I would walk around the city because here we are in the rust belt, and there’s so much beautiful rust everywhere that it becomes part of our landscape. It’s almost like when you are living in the city you don’t see that line of trees all the time. You see buildings around you and rust. Those are the things that become your landscape and become beautiful to you. I am fascinated with it obviously, I have a wall of rust images. They’re not all mine, I take some from online. If you search #rustporn you find some amazing rust works. So I will take a couple of images, sometimes I have real rust in the studio, and I will try to make a palette out of that. Initially I am playing with just the colors that are jumping out, not necessarily the image. And I’ll use ink at first because you can manipulate it every easily. If you through alcohol on ink it separates just like rust does. I get some ideas and I get the organic composition that rust would give on the canvas. I usually work flat on the floor at that stage. I blow it around, spray it around, throw alcohol on it to move it around, and get some hard lines drawn in. Then I wipe all that off so it’s nothing but a stain… Then I do oil over it. I try to create a palette of oil paints because I always finish in oil. I think that’s where my artwork is, it’s in the oil. Everything else to me is the study. I try to do a palette based on what I see.
JK: We’ve talked a lot about your current work, let’s take a step back and talk about where you got your start as an artist, and your journey up to present day.
EF: I was born in Erie, and lived in Erie my whole life with both my parents before their divorce. My dad was an artist, so I was always in his studio as a kid. I was always going to openings and shows. He’s a fairly well known Eire artist. He made a name for himself, and it was always something that was a part of me. When I found out I was good at it, it was something I rejected and didn’t really want to do because I felt like I could never do it on the level that he does.
JK: Do you remember what age that was?
EF: I rejected it all through elementary school, and then I started to embrace it in high school because it was something that I like doing even though I always felt that I could never be good enough. It’s hard having a parent that’s an artist, and then having an interest in it also.
JK: Because you feel like you have to live up to them?
EF: Oh yes, especially when they are amazing... But then I went to school at Mercyhurst College, where my dad was actually the director of the art department. I took my courses from him, and that is tough, when you are taking painting from your painter father, and being graded on your work…. My art background has been there with me my whole life and I’ve worked against it a little bit… My dad is an obsessive artist. He works, lives, sleeps it and I didn’t think I could be that and still be everything else I wanted to be; a mom, a woman, a wife, and all those things. And here I am now and I think my husband would probably call me an obsessive artist. I think now that my children are both in school I am finding it hard to get away from it.
JK: The experience of having to put your artwork on hold to take time to be a mom, I think that is a very common experience for a woman artist. I don’t know if you want to talk more about that and how challenging that was for you or if it wasn’t a challenging decision?
EF: Absolutely I think that is probably one of the biggest challenges of women artists that have children, especially when they are little and so needy of you. When I am in this room, the studio, I can be just me, the artist. But that doesn’t mean that my kids aren’t right outside that door, and if they need anything I have to drop everything in a heartbeat to be there for them. And I have had to do that several times… When my kids were born they needed me so much that I had to put art completely on a shelf because I don’t know how to do it halfway. And that probably comes from the way that I was taught by my dad. I don’t compartmentalize well, I don’t separate. He was probably more of an artist than he was a dad when we were growing up. And I wanted to be more of a mom.
JK: Talking about Facebook, you do those posts saying, “what’s happening in the studio today” where you are showing people what you are working on.
EF: Yes, my friends kept asking me what I was doing everyday and they wanted to see pictures. I didn’t want to have it on my regular Facebook feed where I only have a certain number of friends… So I opened a public site called On the Easel Today… and anyone can like it. And then I’ll post at least 2-3 times a week what I’m doing in the studio, even if it’s unfinished because I think people like to see where works are before they are done. I even show things that I don’t particularly love, like those stages of a painting where it doesn’t look complete yet.
JK: That must be hard sometimes.
EF: It is and I edit sometimes. But then again I think, “this is what I want to see. This is what I want to see other artists doing. I want to see how they do things. I want to see what mediums they’re using.” When I look at other artists’ work I try to dissect it anyway. I am always searching for YouTube videos of artists in their studios working to see how they work. I think it’s something that people would be interested in.
JK: You touched on this a little bit earlier, but I wanted to talk about the show that you were involved with in December at Seton Hill University. It was a show of artwork done just by women artists. You had three works in that show, did you want to talk about that show, the process of getting your work into that show, and also the works themselves?
EF: Yes, It was a really neat show. I always love to be a part of anything that is just women artists because I still don’t think we have the presence that we should in the art world. It was really well put together. It was a class called Women in Art and it was juried by the students. I entered three works and they accepted all three of my works. Going back to my Facebook page, before I entered I said, “I’ve got to narrow these five works down to three” and I asked people for their input. And they ended up picking the three works that I entered… Now they’re not all the same series. I wanted to put things in the same series, but they hung next to each other and they just flowed...