An interview with collector Amanda Erlanson
How long have you had an interest in art?
I fell in love with Maxfield Parrish as a child, upon seeing some of his original work exhibited at a little museum near where I grew up. Since I was raised in the woods of New Hampshire without a television, most of my childhood visual stimulation came from children’s literature, particularly the fairy tales of Andrew Lang and George MacDonald and musty old books like Alice in Wonderland and Treasure Island, which were filled with wonderful images by the great Golden Age illustrators.
As a teenager, I had the usual interest in artists like Dali and Van Gogh, but the art world seemed very remote and unreachable, and most modern art perplexed me. In college, I worked in an art history library for three years. Slacking off in the stacks reading books instead of shelving gave me a decent grounding in the history of art and photography. For a while, I considered becoming a photographer, but people were always more interested in what I’d written about my photographs than in the images themselves, so in the end I kept my photographic pursuits to myself.
After I moved to California, I studied at CalArts for a while, then lurked around the edges of the early ’90s lowbrow scene, but I was too broke to contemplate collecting, and lowbrow felt kind of shallow and hypermasculine to me at the time. For the last five years, I have been actively searching for paintings with a certain mysterious, evocative, dreamlike sensibility, but I only really found what I was looking for about two years ago, when I first walked into Thinkspace and discovered the recent evolution of pop surrealism into something more emotional and expressive.
Does anyone else in your family collect or create art?
No one in my family is an artist, but there has always been a great appreciation for “the arts,” and lots of encouragement to create. My brother collects photography. I’m hoping to get him interested in collecting art someday.
Besides art, is there anything else that the collector bug in you searches out regularly?
I’m a bit obsessive, so I tend to pursue a line of thought until there’s really nowhere else to go with it. Mid-century art pottery, rare science fiction first editions and genealogy were among my earlier compulsions. Currently, however, art is my only addiction. One of the things I like best about this particular collecting endeavor is that I’m never going to reach the end of it – there’s no way I could ever learn everything there is to know or see every painting worth seeing. I think this will probably be a lifetime pursuit.
With your blog Erratic Phenomena, you are able to help further showcase those you admire and collect. What led you to launch the blog? Any plans for who you want to do in-depth features with upcoming?
I started the blog on a whim one day, because I had a couple of photographs that I’d taken at Sarah Joncas’ debut show at your gallery, and I wanted to put them somewhere where people could see them. I wrote a little blurb about the show, and found it quite satisfying. At the time, I was thinking about art day and night, and I soon discovered that I could get a little peace and quiet in my own head if I poured my obsessions out into the blog.
Erratic Phenomena has made it possible for me to delve into the hearts and minds of the artists I admire, and surprisingly people have responded well to my long-winded, verbose writing style. I guess it’s just different enough from the rest of what’s out there to make an impression. I have interviews scheduled with Travis Louie, Edwin Ushiro, Michael Brown, Thomas Doyle, Andy Kehoe and Chris Berens for later this year. I try to do at least one a month, which is becoming more challenging lately because of other commitments which have come up as a result of people liking what they’ve read on the blog. It has led to some amazing opportunities, but the most marvelous thing about it is all the new friends it has brought me.
You’re a magnificent writer and I know you have some cool projects in the works and are starting to write a bit for Hi-Fructose. Can you share with our readers your contribution to the upcoming “Heroes & Villains” project?
“Heroes & Villains” is collaborative photography project by Tatiana Wills and Roman Cho, parts of which have been exhibited at Corey Helford Gallery and Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. Ultimately, the artist portraits that it comprises will become a book. Tatiana and Roman have been working on the project for four years, and asked me to come on board earlier this year because they liked my blog. My task will be to interview the artists – with as much knowledge and depth as possible – and write the introduction. As a result, I will have the opportunity to interview all sorts of artists whom I would ordinarily never presume to ask to speak with me, including the Clayton Brothers, Ron English, Liz McGrath, Seonna Hong, Shepard Fairey, James Jean and Audrey Kawasaki. We are hoping that the book will be published in about a year.
With artists like Mark Ryden, Todd Schorr, Camille Rose Garcia, Shepard Fairey and The Clayton Brothers all having major retrospective museum shows in the past year or two, the future is definitely wide open for this lil’ bubble of the art world. Where do you see this genre of art (new contemporary, urban contemporary, pop surrealism, outsider, lowbrow, etc.) going over the next 5-10 years?
Kandinsky subscribed to the maxim that artists who create from an “internal necessity” and ignore the formal dictates of their time are ushering in tomorrow’s reality, though their work may seem odd and avant-garde to the average viewer when it is first made. I believe that in time, artists who create compelling work that springs out of some need deep within themselves will be taken seriously by the art world, no matter how humble their origins. I can’t speculate about the timeframe in which this will happen, but certainly some of the artists that got their start in this scene are already growing beyond the sphere of our little art community.
With this genre of art gaining in popularity, price points and awareness, there’s a fear amongst some collectors that what we have held dear and close for so long may soon be torn wide open and new collectors and gallery players will start hunting about for ‘the next big thing.’ Any feedback on that notion?
If our neighborhood of the art world does get “discovered,” that can only be good for the artists, and with so many of them having become my friends, I can’t help but feel it would be really selfish to object to that possibility. In such an eventuality, though access to our favorite artists might be usurped by the “big guns,” we would at least have the consolation of knowing that our collections could keep us from living on cat food in our old age.
No matter what happens, I believe that there will always be exciting new artists for collectors and galleries to discover. Serious collectors should always be looking for promising new talent anyway – after all, the watchword is, “Buy what you love, and buy it early.”
First piece purchased and when/why?
Well, I still have the first painting I ever bought – for $25 at a junk shop about 15 years ago. I bought it as a present for my best friend, and was never able to give it away. It’s a pretty good painting, to tell the truth – I see worse in galleries all the time. But the first painting I ever bought in a gallery was Kelly Vivanco’s “Alcove,” at Thinkspace’s “Picks of the Harvest: Batch IV” group show… and I never looked back. Now I have an unconscionable number of Kelly’s paintings, but she never ceases to amaze me. In her work, it is the eyes that captivate – they are deep, evocative pools of emotion and spirit. Her technique is nuanced and subtle but feels effortless, she has an astute understanding of light and color, and her enigmatic narratives are reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century children’s literature I grew up on.
What was your biggest score of 2009 collecting-wise? Best score to date?
Amazingly, I was offered my “holy grail” earlier this year – Chris Berens‘ “First Snow, Guide Me Home” (shown above). I am exceedingly lucky to have that opportunity and to have been able to work out a way to make purchasing it feasible. At the moment, that’s my best all-time score, and it’s kind of hard to imagine ever doing better than that in the future.
Favorite piece you currently own?
Ouch… it’s like choosing a favorite child. Aside from the Berens, I think it’s a tie between Kelly Vivanco‘s “Predawn,” Tessar Lo‘s “Up and Down,” Andrew Hem‘s “In the Rouens” and Scott Belcastro‘s “As Blue As My Soul Will Go.” They still have the power to make my heart skip a beat, even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times.
Do you have any sculpture in your collection?
The only three-dimensional artwork I own is Thomas Doyle‘s “Acceptable Losses,” another piece I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to purchase. Very few sculptures have the emotional impact on me that this one does. It dredges up all sorts of raw emotions about my childhood, but the godlike perspective of looking down upon it, so small in its glass dome, makes those feelings seem isolated and containable, somehow.
Who is at the top of your want list?
I would say Chris Berens, but that would be boring, and anyway I think he’s moving into a price stratum at which I will not be able to participate. Aside from that, I dream of owning one of Michael Brown‘s soft, fleshy bunnies with malevolent human eyes. I particularly love his marvelous “Deuce” and “Albrecht and the Felt Hat.” He’s a visionary painter with impeccable technique and a wicked sense of humor who hasn’t yet made much of an impression in this collector circle. I’m also entranced by the work of Andrew Hem, whose odd, introspective characters inhabit dreamlike environments interwoven with symbolic graphic elements inspired by his graffiti work.
If you could add any piece of artwork to your collection, from any time period, which work would that be?
Hmmm… there are so many wonderful paintings which have moved me over the years. At the moment, I think I would go for Carlos Schwabe’s “Spleen and Ideal” (shown above), for the passionate violence with which he evoked the grappling of the human spirit with the depths of its fear and despair. The painting was originally created as an illustration for Charles Baudelaire’s notorious Les Fleurs du Mal, a book of poetry which was banned in France for nearly 100 years due to its decadence and eroticism. If only some current artist who could paint like a master would convey that kind of fervor, rapture, terror, frenzy, heat… that would be phenomenal.
Please name an artist that might be off many collector’s radar, but that you enjoy and would like to offer some props to. Oh boy, there are so many artists I love whom everyone should know about. I’m very surprised more people don’t know about the work of Moki, who paints photorealistic yet ambiguous landscapes populated with enigmatic beings. She gave me a really insightful interview for my blog last month.
My wife and I would love to donate our collection to some sort of establishment, be it a museum or otherwise, so that the vision remains intact. We’re really creating a snapshot in time. With this in mind, do you see yourself ever stopping buying art and supporting artists? Even if your walls fill up? You are so young, that it’s bound to happen soon, but this is an addiction, as we all know. So just curious about others’ long term plans.
I have likened my experience of buying art to falling in love. There is that delicious anticipation and anxiety… will there be a painting in the show that I can’t resist? Will it take me somewhere emotionally that I haven’t gone before? Will it make me shiver with delight – or trepidation? Will it bring forward some deeply buried fragment of childhood, recall to me some feeling lost in the noise of adulthood? Will it remind me of something loved and lost? Will it change me?
As long as there is art being created that moves me, I can’t imagine not collecting, unless I simply run out of money. By most people’s standards, I’ve already run out of wall space, so that’s not going to stop me. I get so much enjoyment from encouraging talented people to pursue their vision, and being able to encounter their work in my environment every day is a great privilege.
Collecting art has changed my life completely – being part of this art scene has even altered my personality – and all for the better. So I will do what I can to give back to the people who have given me so much. Perhaps we collectors will all come together one day and open our own museum… I guarantee it would be more interesting than 99% of the art museums that currently exist!
Thanks so much for the opportunity to have the tables turned and be the interviewee for once. It’s a real pleasure to discuss the artists I’m passionate about.
Be sure to regularly check out Amanda’s amazing blog here. There’s a great new interview with artist Edwin Ushiro just posted and many more to delve into if you are new to her site. Dig in.