Today we are pleased to welcome visual artist Erica Harney to the Library as Incubator Project. Erica’s exploration of information, ideas, and social constructs is fascinating and offers an intriguing lens through which to view libraries of various kinds. Enjoy! ~ Laura

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Please introduce yourself! Who are you, and what sort of creative work do you do?

Shaping one’s own reality, is in fact, a creative act. And living in a world one has created can be as enjoyable as writing a symphony. Imagine, revise, revive, validate, remember, forget, seek refuge, seek certainty. It is the ongoing search for truth amid illusion. It is creating an elephant from a lump of stone – both difficult, and endlessly meaningful. –Amy Weishaar

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Erica Harney (EH): My work is about the creation (and the illusion of) man-made realities. In contrast to the cool, synthetic, austere work that is the mode of the times, my work is insistently human and reveals not only the warmth of a human hand but delves into the kinds of invented and subjective realities that we as a species create for ourselves. It reflects the way we are inclined to craft our desired self-image and personal narrative to influence the way we are perceived; the specific choices we make to edit and curate our own identity, environment, personal narrative, internet presence and legacy.

I simultaneously investigate many different vantage points to this idea, drawing from various forms of constructed realities including, but not limited to theatre, geology, social media and psychology to invent a body of work that is simultaneously eclectic and conspicuously interconnected. The viewer’s first point of entry, however, is through my focus on the literal construction of an image. I employ a vast lexicon of visual language and reveal parts of the physical and intellectual process to indicate that the work is a deliberate creation: thoughtfully constructed, edited, and presented in such a way as to become its own entity. I am interested in the deceptive nature of art-making in general and painting in particular–not only how an artist manipulates the medium, but how the medium manipulates the viewer’s perception.

I approach my work as a sort of visual diary of existential research. Each painting is like a scene or episode that unfolds as I work on it. Immediacy plays a large part in the process: What begins from a photo, a phrase, or an experience continuously evolves as layers of information are added and removed, directly influenced by what I am exposed to or thinking about during the work’s development.

Equally significant are nuances of construction and editing, artificial adhesion and repair, or ‘jury-rigging’ a convincing cohesiveness, reminiscent of how we build and shape our individual realities. It reflects the ways in which we perceive, preserve, and present our preferred version of reality to ourselves and others: like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, it is in our nature to believe that our existence as we know it is only realized if it is understood and accepted by those other than ourselves.

INTERIOR MONOLOGUE, 2013. Erica Harney.

INTERIOR MONOLOGUE, 2013. Erica Harney.

LAIP: What is or has been your relationship to libraries?

EH: This question has many answers! First and foremost, because of the nature of my work and my creative process, I find myself constantly researching new ideas and concepts that are outside of my field of knowledge. Painting has led me to study topics in the sciences, social studies, performing arts and literature, just to name a few. I read as often as possible, and enjoy both fiction and non-fiction.

I try to seek out books where I may be able to glean inspiration for new paintings or a line of creative research. My favorite way to come across new books, however, is through my friends’ personal libraries. I love going through their collections and asking “ok, what’s good here? What have you read lately that you liked?” Because of this I am constantly borrowing and trading books with friends, and our libraries are evolving and transforming.

I also vastly prefer books to digital images when researching and referencing other visual artists. I was very spoiled as an undergraduate student in Painting at Alfred University- the campus boasted its own freestanding art library, Scholes, in addition to the general University library. My own art library is always growing!

In 2011, I presented a talk about my at the Wilton Public Library in Wilton, CT, in conjunction with my artist residency at the Weir Farm Art Center.

I was first approached by the Library as Incubator Project in response to a recent solo exhibition of my work that was held at the Northville Public Library in the Adirondack State Park in Upstate NY. As a professionally exhibiting artist, I often exhibit my work in alternative locations besides galleries, and apparently I’ve shown in quite a few libraries! In addition to the Northville Public Library, I have also shown at Upstate Medical University Health Sciences Library in Syracuse, NY; the Brooklyn Art Library in Brooklyn, NY; and the Betsy Rodgers Allen Gallery at Schlow Library: State College, PA. Reflecting on it now, libraries are an excellent venue for visual art, where they share a common interest of inquiry, investigation, new worlds and stories.

ANNITA IN MIND, 2014 (this piece will be the cover of SMOKING CIGARETTES, EATING GLASS by Annita Sawyer). By Erica Harney.

ANNITA IN MIND, 2014 (this piece will be the cover of SMOKING CIGARETTES, EATING GLASS by Annita Sawyer). By Erica Harney.

Personally, I have always had a strong relationship to books. I was an incessant and voracious reader as a child; I was constantly being reprimanded for reading at the dinner table, during math class, or on holidays when I was supposed to be playing with my cousins. For a while, I was intent on growing up to be an author/illustrator. While my interests and objectives had changed somewhat, books strongly influence my practice. What I read often filters in to my paintings, and the concept of narrative has been a pervasive factor in my work. I sometimes approach painting as illustrating or narrating a story, and have incorporated the use of text in various formats.

Since I first learned about the Library as Incubator Project in December 2014, I have been reconsidering my relationship to libraries, which is actually helping me to develop a new body of work based on the lives of Charlotte and Emily Bronte….

LAIP: Tell me about what we’d find on your inspiration book shelf – what are some of your favorite titles and/or authors for inspiration or reference?

EH: When I’m finished with a book, I usually like to pass it on to someone else that I think may enjoy it. The books I save are the “special” ones- books that have been particularly influential and that I know I will read or reference over and over again. Here are a few of my all-time favorites from my art and personal libraries:

NON-FICTION, ART

  • Alma-Tadema. Russell Ash. 
  • Francis Bacon. Luigi Ficacci
  • Shadows of a Hand: The Drawings of Victor Hugo. (published by the Drawing Center, New York)
  • Fred Tomaselli. Ian Berry (Tang Museum exhibition catalog)
  • Andrew Wyeth. Richard Meryman
  • Art & Fear. David Bayles and Ted Orland
  • Worldly Art: the Dutch Republic. Mariet Westermann

NON-FICTION, OTHER

  • The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way. Bill Bryson (non-fiction)
  • Our Inner Conflicts. Karen Horney (non-fiction)
  • UPCO’s Review of Earth Science (non-fiction- my old New York State Regents Exam review textbook!)
  • My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Scott Stossel

ADULT FICTION

  • American Psycho. Bret Easton Ellis
  • The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand
  • The Seven Types of Ambiguity. Elliot Perlman
  • Rosemary’s Baby. Ira Levin
  • A Picture of Dorian Grey. Oscar Wilde

CHILDRENS’ FICTION

  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 3-vol. collection by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
  • The Fairy Tale Book. Translated by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne Segur

LAIP: As an artist, what would your ideal library look or be like? What would it have in it? What would it offer for its users?

EH: I’ve been thinking about the answer to this question for a week or so, and I do think there is a lot of potential in the marriage of libraries and visual art.

With the pervasiveness of the internet, it becomes more and more apparent how beneficial it can be to have a first-hand, tactile experience in regards to receiving both art and knowledge.

The ubiquity of the internet has become a substitute for “real life.” Without commencing a socio-political diatribe, let me just say that I’d be interested in investigating the future potential benefits of bringing more art in to libraries…!!

See more of Erica’s work online:

Biography

I was born in Westchester County, NY and grew up in and around Saratoga Springs, NY. I hold a BFA in Drawing and Painting from Alfred University, Magna Cum Laude and an MFA in Drawing and Painting from Pennsylvania State University. I have also studied at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy. I am currently based out of Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA.

Solo exhibitions have taken place at the Northville Public Library in the Adirondack State Park, The Greenpoint Gallery in Brooklyn, VARGA Gallery (Woodstock, NY), Red Raven Art Company (Lancaster, PA), The Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Harrisburg, and the Estate Yard Gallery in County Kilkenny, Ireland among others. Notable group exhibitions include the SELECT Fair at Art Basel Miami Beach and several New York City galleries such as the Coleman Burke Gallery, Sara Meltzer Gallery, Kathleen Cullen Fine Art Gallery and James Cohan Gallery.

In July, I was featured as a Visiting Artist at the New York State Summer School of the Arts/Visual Arts at SUNY Fredonia in Fredonia, NY and will be highlighted on a PBS documentary of the program entitled “Focused: Creative Youth in the Empire State” which will air across New York State.

I am the recipient of numerous awards, including a Graham Endowed Fellowship, a Daniel J. Murphy II Award for Creativity, a Christos N. Apostle Grant. My work has been featured in several publications, including Studio Visit Magazine and most recently, the cover of Southern Humanities Review. I have been a resident artist at the Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, Palazzo Rinaldi Artists’ Residency in southern Italy, and twice at the Vermont Studio Center. In October 2014 I was a resident artist at Artscape Gibraltar Point in Toronto.

 In addition to independent studio work, I have worked collaboratively with visual artists, musicians, writers, and choreographers. I created the cover art for “Smoking Cigatettes. Eating Glass: A Psychologist’s Memoir”  by Annita Perez Sawyer which will be released in spring 2015. I have taught at the Pennsylvania State University and in 2013 curated a group exhibition at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY called Under the Rug: A Look at Institutional Dishonesty. I have assisted on projects with the world-renowned City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and now paint scenery for regional theatre companies including Opera Philadelphia, Opera Delaware and the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA where I am the resident Scenic Charge.

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