How did you get into making art?
Like most kids, I spent a lot of time drawing and doing crafty things while growing up. I enjoyed it so much that over time it became a normalized part of my day, to just sit down and spend hours working on a project. My family was always encouraging of my interests and even set a level of expectation that kept me continuously engaged. They took my art making very seriously and so that encouraged me to take seriously. I had no idea what being an Artist meant, or even knew how to picture what life as an Artist would look like, but I went off to an art college to learn how to be a professional one. I attended a school that was expensive, and knowing how much the education was costing I knew that I would only consider it worthwhile if I was able to hone a skill while there. So I spent four years learning how to draw realistically with charcoal. I paid off the majority of my education loans with money from drawing sales, so I think it was a well-made decision. I’m still figuring out what life as an Artist looks like, but I think that’s the beauty of it. It can be whatever I want it to be, especially when I have focus and encouragement. I have more recently been ruminating on how the first few years of my life were a literal blur. I was born with terrible vision, very nearsighted, and my parents didn’t know that I needed glasses until I was 3 years old. I used the contrast of light and dark as a guide for navigating my body through this blurry world. I wasn’t always successful, as I once ran straight into a wall. I don’t remember the first time I wore glasses, but the act of seeing is still the greatest joy to me, and probably because it was given to me so late. The drawings that I make feel very connected to that experience, in ways that I have yet to fully realize.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a series of drawings of women’s bedrooms.
I’ve become consumed with the interplay of presence and absence
What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
After spending several years drawing public spaces I wanted to focus on private interiors. My shift in interest from exterior to interior spaces coincided with a realization that I had been watching many of the women in my life rebuild their homes, often after upheaval. I developed an interest in acknowledging the resiliency required in rebuilding one’s life, and wanted to display the value of sanctuary within the home. I began by drawing the bedroom of a dear friend and then I asked for volunteers. I received an overwhelming response and am very slowly working through a growing list. This is a series that I imagine will continue throughout my career, even as I move between other projects.
Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
I would say that I work on distinct projects, but that I also have an overall manifesto that I follow. This is a recent development, as my work shifted 5 years ago. I used to primarily draw figures, focusing almost exclusively on self-portraits for over a decade. When my father passed away in 2014, the experience dramatically changed what I was interested in drawing. I started focusing on architecture and interiors, drawing the spaces that people occupy but not drawing the people. I’ve become consumed with the interplay of presence and absence, and the weight that absence can hold when we have an expectation of presence. In each thing that I chose to draw, this is the guiding principle behind the piece. In the drawings of the women’s bedrooms, I am creating a representation of each woman by depicting their space. The absence of their figure creates a level of anticipation. She could appear in her room at any moment, or maybe she just left. This tension keeps her present in your mind.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I left my day job at the very beginning of this year and have been trying to learn what a full-time studio practice looks like day to day. The year 2020 has been one hell a time to learn to focus on self-imposed deadlines. I don’t know if I have a typical day, yet. I make a list of things to do each morning and I try have them completed by the end of the day. The list could include things like “Draw 4-5 hours,” “File sales tax,” “Apply to Hopper Prize,” or “Workout” and “Call Mom.” After years of having a schedule imposed upon me, I am trying to allow myself time to learn what my own natural rhythm could be.
Who are your favorite artists?
When I visited the Vija Celmins retrospective at the Met Breuer in NYC last fall I shed some quiet tears while standing in front of her painted rocks. And I still am thinking about the Robert Longo show, “Gang of Cosmos,” at the Metro Gallery a few years before that. I find a lot of joy in the heartfelt teaching philosophy of Josef Albers, which puts much emphasis on the importance of observation, not only for art making but also for fostering empathy in life. Some of my favorite artists are also my friends, like Mequitta Ahuja and Amy Sherald. Both are incredible painters who I admire, and they have offered me invaluable advice and wisdom over the years. I have also done collaborative work with my friend and fellow Baltimore-based artist Jackie Milad, and our work together is still shifting how I think about space and how it is represented.
Where do you go to discover new artists?
Right when I decided to increase the number of cheap but harrowing bus rides I took up to NYC to visit museums and galleries the COVID shut-down started. So, for now, it’s mostly Instagram and mindful internet research.
Erin Fostel is an artist based in Baltimore who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist: