Q&A with Erica Grimm Vance, Artist and Assistant Professor of Art, Trinity Western University
My art helps to describe what it is like to be a human body, beginning with the inside.
Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Erica Grimm Vance: For nearly thirty years, I have been making images—drawings and paintings—of people. They range in size from a few inches square to twenty feet long, and use materials like wax, pigment, steel plates, gold, and lead to make more visceral and give a visual voice to what it is to be a human being. These materials add layers of meaning. Using visual means instead of words, they help to describe what it is like to be a human body, beginning with the inside. In a way, each piece can be understood as mapping a state of being—or, more honestly, a state of prayer—whether that is joy or lament, praise or grief, gratitude or despair, surrender or anger. For many years, I have been particularly captivated by our internal response to the invitation of God's grace. My work is to create images of the response of the lively soul to the invitation of God.
More recently, I have been adding ordinary things to my work, like navigational charts, traffic maps, and topographical maps, which symbolize and map both the body's exterior and interior. Medical images like PET (positron emission tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and EKG (electrocardiogram) scans are, literally, a means of mapping the interior of the body. Pages of text and stock market reports are also are symbols that create meaning. I place these symbols beside drawings of the body and various materials to imitate how we move through our days decoding, understanding, or making meaning of what is around us. I believe God speaks to us, not only through the natural world, but also through the whole created material realm—our own bodies and minds, and even these maps and technologies. The least we can do is pay attention.
Currently, I am back in school (while also teaching at Trinity Western University), earning my Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University. So, I am reading a great deal of philosophy, aesthetics, and cultural and higher educational theory. I have been immensely enjoying this work and am looking forward to integrating the reading and writing with the image-making work that I do.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
EGV: Life drawing classes at the University of Regina taught me entirely new ways of using my eyes, honed my perceptual abilities, influenced how I thought, introduced me to a new way of being, and widened my capacity for attentiveness. I discovered that drawing is another word for prayer. Years later, I found similar intellectual aha!s in cultural theory.
Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?
EGV: After I had a child, I was told to get childcare, and not to expect to make art on the side or during naps.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
EGV: Reading poetry, philosophy, critical theory, theology, and cultural theory; looking around; and prayer and meditation.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
EGV: Right now, my day begins with journaling and prayer. My time is dominated by reading and writing, though I am making exercise my new daily habit. As soon as I begin my thesis, I will again work in the studio for an uninterrupted stretch of three to four hours each day.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
EGV: My MacBook Pro, my silver mechanical pencil, a thick chunk of 9B graphite which is wider than my thumb, a 2" wide sable brush, and my tacking iron.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
EGV: I was asked by Campion College at the University of Regina to be the 25th Nash Memorial Lecturer, an honour that I shared with Tim Lilburn. I was a student at Campion many years ago, knew Father Nash, and had attended all the Nash lectures while I was a student. It was an honour to be invited to speak in this prestigious series.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
EGV: Right now, I am juggling teaching, Ph.D. study, and visual work, which is obviously a challenge. I have had conversations regarding commissioned visual work being booked two to three years from now, and better galleries and public exhibition spaces also book one to two years in advance, so my timelines are measured in years right now.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
EGV: Everything is connected, since my work speaks of how a spiritual existence and awareness impacts our current time and cultural context. At the same time, I am most productive when my life is compartmentalized, so that I can concentrate. The connecting theme is paying attention. When I am paying attention, the ideas flow.