By Mike Gainor
The Pine Center for the Arts (265 5th Street SE) will welcome artist Erica Belkholm on Friday, Sept. 9 as she presents a series of large-scale figure drawings in a show entitled “Mythology.”
Belkholm said that over the past few years she had been working to make art that sells.
“The secret, if you’re interested, is whimsy,” Belkholm explained. “People love whimsy. Mostly I drew chubby birds, chubby bears, chubby moose, chubby owls – you get the idea. While they sold well, they also became boring to make, at least from a purely technical point of view.”
She said that for a while she tried to sell both her whimsical pieces along with large-scale realism pieces that allowed her to exercise her artistic skill.
“It was a complete failure,” she said. “People would wander into my art fair tent and ask, ‘Two different artists?’ or simply leave in confusion. Galleries didn’t know what to do with me. My online store saw a complete halt in sales.”
In 2015, she decided to forget solvency and focus on making the kind of art she wanted to make.
“I began the ‘Mythology’ series then, and was fortunate enough to get both a McKnight and Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant to pay for both a large percentage of the framing and much of the upcoming solo show at Pine Center for the Arts,” she said.
Belkholm said she pulls inspiration from mythography, the study of mythology creation.
“I like the snowball effect of repeated storytelling; how with each telling the story gets bigger and more dramatic,” she said. “With this series I’ve done the same thing; each time I finish a drawing I collect all the feedback I get from viewers and use that to fuel the next drawing, emphasizing and exaggerating the elements people commented on and dropping things they didn’t.”
As an example, she described how this process led from one of her artworks to developing the next.
“Many people told me how they were struck by the gaze of the woman in ‘Assured,’ Belkholm said. “These comments prompted me to create ‘Sight,’ a drawing with gold rays projecting from a woman’s eyes. ‘Sight’ is also fairly large, making it an overwhelming, powerful piece best viewed from a distance. It took about 55 hours to draw, and is done in crimson and white on a gray-toned paper, like most of my pieces.’”
‘Sight’ is currently being exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair, and Belkholm hopes it will return with some awards for the Pine Center for the Arts exhibit.
She said she is grateful for Pine Center for the Arts and other community art galleries in the region.
“Community arts galleries are absolutely necessary for the survival of rural artists,” Belkholm said. “They’re also completely underrated as keepers and distributors of culture. Any small town that supports an art gallery is a town that knows its citizens possess and create a rich, worthwhile cultural heritage.”
“I know most of y’all just think it’s a fun free thing to bring the kids to – and it is – but you’re selling yourselves short,” she said. “Patronizing the arts is a marker of a healthy, thriving community.”
She said that right now she is focused on getting an artist’s residency.
“Ideally I would become self-sufficient as an artist while not compromising my artistic integrity,” she said, “which is pretty much what every artist hopes to accomplish in their life.
“I want my art to inspire a conversation. Most artists with that same goal have a specific topic of conversation in mind; I don’t. I want my art to be as blank-slate as possible, so the viewer has to insert their own agenda, personality or mood. It’s very much like a Rorschach test. I supply the imagery, you supply the story, and by all means, tell me the story! I find them absolutely fascinating.”
The opening reception will take place Friday, Sept. 9 from 4 – 7 p.m. at 265 5th Street SE, Pine City. The exhibit will be open to the public until Oct. 1, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3 – 6 p.m.