We at SFR have made no secret of our love for the works of local artist Erin Currier, a combination of painting, found collage and portraiture. We even went so far as to have Currier design the cover for our 2020 Best of Santa Fe issue. That’s pretty much why, when she called to say she was ready to debut a new series at her longtime gallery Blue Rain (5-7 pm Friday, Sept. 10. 544 S Guadalupe St., (505)954-9902), we said “Well, sure, we’d love to throw a few Qs your way.” Currier’s new body focuses on the idea of transformation through portraits of iconic folks like Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg, Nigerian ultimate fighter Israel Adesanya and American mycologist Paul Stamets. There’s subtext in there about how human suffering can and does connect us, but if one had to zero in on an unofficial theme for Passion, Pathos, and the Human Potential, it would probably be something like hope.
Without trying to make the question sound trite, can you talk about your inspiration for your new works?
It’s kind of been an ongoing theme. A few years ago, I lost my partner, my soulmate of 21 years, and I’m very fortunate to have a close circle of friends and family, and my art, but I realized in retrospect what helped me move forward more than anything else, was movement: tango dancing and marital arts and this kind of toolset I’ve been passionate about most of my adult life. More and more I’ve been kind of wondering what passions people use to deal with their suffering. Last year I did a series called Muse in Motion, and that was kind of the seeds of what has become this full-fledged inquiry. I’ve always done Buddhist practice and meditation, and in Buddhism, one of the precepts is that all humans suffer, but they also feel that the human realm is the most auspicious realm to be born in…that it’s through our suffering and challenging and angst, the things we’re hit with out of left field, that allow us to potentially grow and evolve as humans.
Some of these individuals, Paul Stamets, for example—I’ve been familiar with his mushroom tinctures for a long time, and this past year I saw Fantastic Fungi, and it’s partly a documentary about his life, and it really struck me that his story of how he grew up stuttering, never having any friends, and then one day he went on a mushroom trip. He ate a whole bag of psychedelic mushrooms, climbed a tree and was up in that tree all night and had a complete transformation. He was able to cure himself. He’d already had an interest in mushrooms, but then it became a passion. He was able to heal and transform his own life, but also help tons of people heal, and also clean up toxins in the environment through mycology. Everybody I’ve portrayed in this show has some similar story like that. They have some personal challenge to overcome, but it’s through their passions they were able to do that.
And it interests me in my own life, because all humans suffer and it doesn’t matter how rich or young or famous of beautiful someone is, everything is impermanent, and we’re all subject to vulnerabilities and fragilities like losing someone we love, or even a pet. You see it all the time now with droughts and the fires, which have really highlighted how tenuous our existence is on this planet. The underlying message is definitely meant to be one that’s uplifting, and one that will hopefully inspire the viewer to see how all these different passions can keep us all going.
You did a residency in a lighthouse on the New York coast last year. Can you describe any impact that might have had on the new stuff?
It’s interesting, because I don’t know if I’ve actually spent that much time alone in my whole life, and it was just a couple weeks, maybe three at most. But it was literally out in the middle of the ocean on a pile of rocks, and I had to climb this steel ladder to get to a dock, then a couple sets of steep stairs. It was just me and my little chihuahua mix, and I saw pods of dolphins and, at one point, two beluga whales came along, plus so may birds and fish. Having that time alone to contemplate, and to draw, it really reinforced my own path and commitment and dedication to my art. That may be why I was drawn to some of these [subjects]. That commitment and dedication that I admire in others is something I don’t ever want to let go of in my own practices. Drawing brings me so much pleasure and focus, and when I’m drawing, I’m present and very much connected to whoever, whatever I’m drawing. I think, I guess, I really realized that drawing was my first love and something I don’t ever want to waver from.
The dreaded pandemic question—have the realities of COVID-19 played any role in how you see the present and future of your practice?
I mean, if anything, through all of it, what was already clear to me, and is now abundantly clear and should be to everyone at this point, is just the importance of community. Being kind to one another. Sharing. Being flexible. Just being kind. I think initially it didn’t affect me terribly because, as an artist, I work at home and make my own time and spend a lot of time outside, and we’re fortunate to live in New Mexico, a state of huge open spaces and sunny days, where we can meet friends socially distant in the park or take our dogs for a walk every day. Really, though this pandemic I’ve thought a lot about the elderly shut away in these homes...I think human contact is so important. Likewise, with children, it concerns me little kids haven’t been able to roll around and tussle and play, I think it’s so important to humans.
So I guess It’s made me extra empathetic, but I’ve also seen that a lot in others, too. There’s been this spirit of we’re all in this together, and pretty much all of us know someone who has been sick or died or lonely or suffering depression or financially insecure; we’ve also seen the opposite, the people in our lives who’ve made huge changes with health or spending time with family or building gardens, and I think it’s really clear, as a collective, that we really need each other. Humans were meant to work together and share together and live together. I’ve seen a lot of that in New Mexico, which is heartening.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Greta Thunberg hails from Iceland. Thunberg is Swedish.