Spirited #4 [Plastic City]
Interview with Eryn Tomlinson
by Meggie Sullivan
I first saw Eryn Tomlinson’s work on an iPhone screen.
“Look, it’s you in a painting”, said my friend Liana pulling the screen to my face. She had snapped a shot of a painting from the Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) senior art show, thankfully catching the artist’s name below. Feeling curious and impressed, my mission to learn more began with a phone call to Eryn’s Denver home. Thank you, Internet.
“Hello?” a seemingly shy and young voice answered the phone. But as our conversation progressed, a heard wisdom and experience debunked my first impression. Like her words, Eryn’s work reveals maturity. Reflecting controlled balance, energy, and a deep understanding of color, the canvases arise from her meditations. Each piece starts at a central point, developing in spontaneous freehand and almost perfect symmetry. As observers, the product is our visual meditation as well. This is art’s most elusive aim, yet now achieved.
M: How’s it going out in Denver? Is the Midwest summer treating you well?
E: I’ve been working at a kids’ art camp for the summer and painting whenever I can. I love being around kids because they’re so creative. After I get a paycheck I’m like ‘What, I get a paycheck? This was too much fun.’ I could see myself teaching in the future for sure. I’ve also been trying to get my portfolio together and applying to this residency called Anderson Ranch.
M: How did RISD grab your allegiance?
E: When I first visited, I went to the Nature Lab where they have all sorts of dead animals and bones and things to draw. I liked the colonial feel of Providence; everyone is really dedicated to what they do. At the other [art] schools they’re a little too laid back and unfocused.
M: At what age did you pick up a paintbrush? And at what age did you declare ‘I’m an artist?’
E: My mom is an artist. She’s a painter and teaches art, and took me to her classes when I was little. That got me going creatively from the start. My dad is a writer. They’re always working on stuff and I thought that was normal. I was always doing projects. Growing up I never thought I would end up going to school for art, or becoming an artist as a career. I wanted to be a fashion designer in high school.
M: What are your thoughts on the state statement that ‘Fashion is art’?
E: I’m very influence by a lot of designers: Alexander McQueen, the digital prints of Basso and Brooke. I certainly believe in that statement. Wash colors right now are part of this generation and neon or digital. It’s all connected.
M: Tell me about the process of making your pieces.
E: I start out with a palette idea; I never know what it’s going to look like. If I’m doing a symmetrical piece I measure the center and side points but not everything is always perfect. I only use my hand – I don’t use a ruler on most of the lines because I want the process to be completely organic. I start at the center and work my way out or start at the end and go to the center. It’s very much like the process of sacred geometry. The painting turns out to be like a crystal or a pyramid as I go along.
M: What is your greatest inspiration?
E: The design of nature is my number one source – it’s incredibly symmetrical. Also, all other artists and creative people are very inspiring. I’m inspired by ancient architecture; it’s symmetrical but also organic. I enjoy Buddhist and Native American art.
M: How do you feed your creative process? How do you keep things fresh?
E: It’s become a part of my daily routine at this point. It’s like going to yoga class – doing a little of it everyday. The more I do, the more creative I feel and more satisfying it feels. My new rule is once I start I have to finish it. Consistency is really important. If I make something crappy I have to finish it.
M: Are you religious?
E: I don’t like to be defined by one thing – I read a lot about different religions. There are different things I take from each of them. I like the idea of everyone having their own religion. I don’t think there’s any one way to do things or to believe. I believe in energy and that what you think and how you act makes a huge difference in the world. I live by that. I believe in being positive. I’m into cult things – and hippie things.
M: Do you have a mentor in your life?
E: There are so many people, my parents are my mentors, my sisters. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by two female artists. Emma Kunz is one; when my teacher told me about her I thought I was her reincarnation. She’s inspiring because she was also a healer. Frida Kahlo has also always been inspiring. I am really inspired by anyone who keeps doing what they like to do even if they don’t get any success in their lifetime. They do it because they want to.
M: Are you good at math? Your paintings show abstract symmetry, but symmetry nonetheless.
E: I wish I were good at geometry. In high school I barely passed any math classes.
M: How do others describe you art?
E: I have heard a variety of descriptions about my artwork. One of my classmates at RISD said they should be inside of a meditation room, another person said they reminded him of computer screen-savers, and another one of my classmates said they looked like laser-light shows at a rave. But I think generally most people always comment on the artificial light that the color creates, the geometry, and I always get the question of ‘why do you make them symmetrical?’ That is something I am still trying to answer for myself.
It is nice to know that most people enjoy looking at them, and don’t feel the need to immediately ask: What are your sources? Why do you draw geometry? What are they about? I want people to ask these questions, but I also just want them to have an experience with the environment of the paintings before they think too hard about them.
M: How do you call your style to a blind person?
E: I would describe it as if they could imagine a spiritual energy- as an ambient sound. Maybe they could touch something in nature. I did take some video at RISD – I would like to make more videos that are sound based.
M: If no one could say no to you, what would you be up to?
E: Ideally I would like to have an art show or solo show coming up – New York would be great. I’d also like to simply be happy. I want to get my own house, I want a cat, I want to be able to paint everyday and have a job and still be able to go out with friends.
M: How much is one of your paintings and where should I put in my house?
E: I’ve sold one piece at $400 which is pretty good for now. There are about five of my pieces still in Providence. They’re in the “New Contemporary Show “ at Galmen Gallery – thankfully I don’t have to pay to ship them. They are all around $400- one’s on panel are at $500.
I want people to put them in their homes or simply make their personal space more enjoyable.
M: What kind of satisfaction do you get from your art? What kind of satisfaction do you want me to get?
E: To me it’s about the meditative zone. It’s satisfying to make things that are symmetrical. I once read that symmetrical pictures are supposed to have a calming affect on the brain. Your brain just likes to see it. It makes me happy when others say looking at them is calming, it’s why I make them.