The Artist's Gaze: Erin Anderson
What compels you to the specific women you choose to paint?
I love to paint subjects who have a lot of character or a compelling story behind them. I’ve been lucky to find models that are very willing to be open with me through the art-making process.
When do you know you have made a significant connection to your subject and what does that feel or look like from your perspective?
My process has changed somewhat when I gather references for paintings. In the past I would have an idea of what I wanted, a concept I wanted to explore. I would guide the model and instruct their poses to try and achieve something specific. Lately I have thrown all that out the window and taken a more organic approach. My goal now is to connect with the model and get to know who they are. We simply have a conversation. I don’t tell them my concept, I don’t ask them to pose, I don’t bring out any visual references. Instead I ask questions about their lives and listen to their stories. This helps me to know who they are, what they’re like on a fundamental level, what their joys and struggles are. Ultimately this insight into their character is what helps guide and inform the paintings I do.
Tell us about a strong reaction you have received to your work and the impact you sense it has made on the subject, viewer, or the greater cultural landscape.
For the most part I am happy to have received predominantly positive feedback regarding my work. However, the reactions that always stand out in my mind are the ones who are uncomfortable with the nudity depicted in some of my work. Those are the reactions I carry with me more so than the positive ones because I’m always so surprised at how uncomfortable some are with seeing a representation of the nude human body. It’s even more interesting to see that often people are more uncomfortable with bodies that aren’t idealized or perfect. There’s a tendency to immediately zoom in on the imperfections as the first quality they notice and label them as “ugly”. We are a culture that is obsessed with perfection and beauty and are taught from an early age that we have to strive toward these impossible ideals. The majority of the population falls incredibly short of society’s standard of “perfect” and for many, to be visually confronted with imagery a real human body sends shockwaves. I don’t know if my work actually causes people to think about the reaction they’re having, but I know it’s important to me to depict models, as they are, not as what society says they should be.
What is it about your personal journey that has brought your gaze to focus so deeply on women?
I can relate to women. It’s easy for me to hear their stories and be able to put myself in their shoes.
Why this visual dialogue? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I hope ultimately to show that we’re all connected. Throughout time we’ve crafted perceptions of ourselves as being separate and different than others. I think when culturally programmed ideas of who we are become stripped away and we allow ourselves to understand others; fundamental similarities begin to emerge more so than differences.