The mystery of the subject: Eric Pelka, artist, in interview

eric_pelka_portraitMixed media artist Eric Pelka has exhibited in galleries in Italy, Japan, and the USA, and was part of a multimedia benefit for the New York Foundation of The Arts in 2003. He has recently shown at a number of New York galleries, where he lives. He recently spoke to People of Shambhala about his work and life.

PoS: When did you first start painting, and when did you know that it was really your calling?

EP: The very earliest reasons as to why I started exploring painting and drawing is pretty much similar to why I love it so much now: that is the raw tools themselves, and the form of alchemy the materials create. The paint was so tantalizing that bare fingers [when I painted as a child] were soon replaced with brushes. Pencils were used, to my parents disdain, for wall scenes and [for drawing on] other objects such as mirrors, windows, the books found in the shelves, vinyl records, etc. But I was soon shown more proper options for my interest, with parents and relatives giving me paper, canvas, wooden boards, colored pencils, markers, acrylic, oil paint, watercolors and so on. These gave a sense of structure to my passion… I stopped destroying other people’s property.

Eric Pelka,  "Different Views: Inside The Mirror Trunk Outside," 2011.
Eric Pelka, “Different Views: Inside The Mirror Trunk Outside,” 2011.

Shortly after this I was taken to the big art museums, and I saw how paintings are creations that are admired and analyzed in our culture. And I also knew it was important to paint, and that there were multitudes of art periods and style.

PoS: How did you feel when you first came to New York? How did it affect your style?

EP: Even though I work in solitude usually, I’m still very influenced by the living energy that’s unique to wherever I may be. When I first came to live in New York from a suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio, it was a very specific fantasy that I was pursuing. I was 19-years-old, and favorite scenes from movies based in New York or moments from novels I’ve read  — that took place on street blocks I was now living amongst — had left strong, romantic impressions on me .

There’s the history of New York, which I find forever interesting — knowing you can have a pint under the ceiling where George Washington once slept above, or sip wine where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller once hung out. But, even so, I think our future is more important. It’s what is happening right now that’s most important.

PoS: It’s a kind of adventure or exploration?

EP: Yes, I always wanted to be an explorer, on a ship that set sail to continuously discover new lands — I guess like Robinson Crusoe, sort of. But, since this was unrealistic, I took up painting and drawing. This has always been the most accessible, reliable and tangible form of expression for me.

Painting has become as much a part of me as a living organ in my body, except its is an act of creation that uses several parts of the body. It’s definitely about the brain but also about hands, eyes, ears, taste and so on. It has become a way to feel more comfortable in this environment of consciousness… Besides pencils and brushes, I’ve used sticks, lamb chops and birthday candles. For paint, acrylic is my favorite, but besides that, I’ve used wine, and even coffee.

PoS: Your work has a lot of women in them, and they seem to have their own characters. Who are they? Do you get inspired by people around you, or are they purely from your own mind? Are they in some sense your anima?

Eric Pelka, "Regarde moi" (detail), mixed media, 1995.
Eric Pelka, “Regarde moi” (detail), mixed media, 1995.

EP: With so many women influencing me since my childhood, beginning with my mother, there are many women I’ll know, and several I won’t know, that I’ll find in front of me [in the art] when I’m working on a piece.

The women have been appearing since I could barely speak a word! I remember when I was 2 or 3 years old and my aunt going to Hawaii all the time, and having books about Polynesia around the coffee table, and visiting the hula dancers at Sea World in Aurora, Ohio These were things that helped prompt me to draw endless pages of hula girls.

Some of the women over the years may be specific, but usually they aren’t. It’s about the mystery of the subject; sometimes it’s the mystery of how certain colors and forms appear with the raw materials, the paint. Even though I appreciate the sense of freedom I have to explore, certain things just happen. I find that exciting, and, often, chilling. The characters that appear are sometimes realized immediately. At other times they emerge later on.

PoS: Although very different, like Cubism, your work presents scenes that are up close to the viewer. We don’t see perspective. Although your lines and shapes are a lot soft er, there’s a sense with your work that we’re seeing everything at once. What is this telling us? Is it a reflection of modern life, with overcrowded cities, or with the world becoming smaller through the internet, and so on?

EP: I’m living in a robust city with much beautiful chaos, and [I have] high level of outside stimulation, so this affects my work. When I paint in the countryside or a different city, for that matter, it affects the piece — that’s the energy from the immediate environment.

PoS: In some of your older paintings, such as “Peeling the Grand Frown Sale,” 2007, the figures seem to form the landscapes themselves. But these landscapes always seem to reach upward, as if they’re mountains of people. Can you tell me about this?

EP: That particular painting emerged from a denser reality that was being discovered around 2002. A reality of “many realities” that were still all interconnected, and yet distinguishable from a unique origin. That created a vision among many visions, though all from a similar state of consciousness.

PoS: Your paintings since 2011 have become more colorful, I think. And they’ve taken on the quality of storytelling. They seem to have the quality of folk tales, illustrating oversized people and creatures (e.g., Birdy, from Mind Physical Works, and You’re In Here). Can you tell me about this?

EP: There are a lot of stories and tales — mysteries — within each piece of work, and I still haven’t solved most of them. Some characters reappear and are reinterpreted years later.

PoS: Can you tell me about your recent exhibitions? Where have you shown? What has been the best experience recently?

EP: My favorite so far is Japan, but I couldn’t imagine that there would really be a place on earth to not find interesting. The next showing of work will be in a group show of small works at SPACEWOMb Gallery, May 4 to 24, in Long Island City, New York.

PoS: What do you hope for in your art as you go forward?

EP: To always have the opportunity to do this every day ,and be able to share it, with all my love.

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