Neoteric Art: You are a self-taught painter. Do you feel this is an advantage compared to a “trained” painter?
Eric Mecum: Since I am self taught I have to think I have some kind of advantage over all the trained artists in the world. Maybe my final product is more pure. I learn from my own trial and error, at my own pace, my leisure, my excitement and all my artistic influences have been by my choice. I have no idea what these money making institutions are teaching their students so it’s hard for me to comment but I will say I have issues with pigments, canvases, grounds, varnishes, color palettes, basic stuff. Then there’s the whole social aspect of school I completely missed; being around my peers, critiquing, discussions, marketing and promoting. Growth is certainly enhanced in that kind of environment but does it make an artist? I don’t think so. It makes a bunch of people that think they’re artists. That old cliche comes to mind, you can talk the talk but can you walk the walk.
NA: Discuss your work/thought process when starting a new piece.
EM: I love my photo references for all the meticulous detail they provide so I start every piece with the eye of a photographer. Subjects are usually some type of man-made object. I’ll look for the best angle, light, color, composition, then take the picture, or several. If the shot is not completely successful, I might try and pull something out within the picture with additional cropping. For the most part I stretch my own canvases because I end up with some odd sizes. Then it’s onto the projector. People that have issues with projecting don’t know that most of the detail is unseen on a projected image and all that smaller stuff will be painted in over the course of several undercoats then several corrective paint layers. The final painting can end up with 4 to 10 layers. My medium of choice is oil, but when I have tight deadlines I will revert to acrylic for the quick drying time.
NA: How would you define your painting philosophy?
EM: I try to paint to the same level as any master! Albeit I am rarely successful and end up with a lot of disappointment but that is the bar I’ve set for myself. The world is full of mediocre art, and even more bad art so I’m trying to do my best not add to that pile.
NA: Discuss your “Cello Series”.
EM: This series was a fantastic experience exploring one subject in a short period of time. A friend of mine owns the space where the show hung, it doubles as a music studio and performance area. After a couple group shows we set up a date to do a solo show. I picked the cello because of the history of the Fine Arts Building and her space. Also I have always had an affinity to the physical instrument. I had a busy schedule that year and only left myself two months to complete as many paintings as I could. I had some old photos I worked from along with a handful of instrument shots I took at William Harris Lee & Co. I think I ended up with 15 paintings in all. Two were diptychs. The painting marathon created an eclectic group of images: graphic, realism, figures, one impressionistic. One painting I did with my left hand (part of a diptych) became the surprise of the show, and to myself, because I had never painted (or mixed paints) with my left hand before. Completely unplanned, I was going for a messy complement to the right handed realism painting. About 3 hours into painting it I realized it was going to be an exact copy of my right handed painting. My original idea was unsuccessful but it did validate my phrase, “I could paint better than that, using my left hand!”
NA: Your “Oriental Theater/Wicked” painting is an especially interesting piece. Give us the details on this painting.
EM: I was showing at The Artist Project at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago last year and the president of Broadway In Chicago, Lou Raizin walked into my booth and commented on a painting that I did of one of his competing venues. I asked what venues he owned and told him I could just as easily paint one of his theaters and that was the end of the conversation. Months later he emailed asking if I was interested in a commission. He was looking to have a painting made to present it as a gift to the producers of Wicked at the end of the musicals run. This is how the 2 canvas idea came into play, there were two producers. It was the VP of Marketing, Eileen LaCario that asked if it was possible. I loved the idea, and the challenge to make one image also work as two. I went back and took more shots of the Oriental Theater with this in mind. To date it was the most labor intensive painting I have done. It was quite intimidating staring at a 4 ft x 5 ft blank canvas, but I worked in small areas, and burned through about 12 audio books (120hrs) until I was done. I find a great audio book will promote longer painting sessions! When I delivered it to the Chicago office I pulled it apart so I could if it in the car. It was really nice to finally see the two canvases by themselves, it looked like they were painted from different photos! I was really looking forward to the idea of having the painting forever split, with one canvas on the west coast and one on the east, but the main producer, David Stone, decided to keep it intact and I hear it now hangs in the conference room of his NY office.
NA: What is your take on the current art world scene?
EM: I really have no idea! I recently got a subscription to Artforum to try and keep myself abreast of the current scene but I usually just flip through it to see what people are painting. Seems like illustration, street, and conceptual art is the big thing right now, good for those people. I’m old school I still like my basic paint on canvas. Not sure of the validity of this but I did hear a few years ago NY was on a trend cycling through new artists trying to find the next big talent, consequently the artists were tossed aside after their 15 min. When I finally make it to NY I’d prefer not to be a trend.
NA: Which painter/artist has most influenced you and why?
EM: If I didn’t mention Robert Cottingham I would be a fool. The images in his paintings seemed like they were taken from the rural area where I was living in 1988. So it was Roberts style that I took to first, but its Robert and a handful of other artists featured in the book ‘Realists at Work’ that grabbed my attention with their in-depth interviews and all the photos of the Realism painting process. Its still my bible today when I want some inspiration.
NA: Concerning your art career, where would you like to be five years from now?
EM: In a proper studio! Most of my work has been created in kitchens or bedrooms. The only time I was in a real studio was a two week residency at Ragdale Foundation; it was highly enlightening what a proper space can do for an artist. A big space would free me up to work on larger canvases and larger ideas. I would also like see my name work its way to that select group of galleries, institutions and collectors that enjoy realism. It’s a hell of a burden when paintings pile up.