This is the third in a series of interviews with artists participating in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opens on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014. It will feature the works of forty-eight artists in many forms of media.
Q: What is your name, where are you from, and where do you live now?
A: Erik Hougen. I was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, and have lived in Brooklyn, New York, since 2006.
Q: What medium(s) do you work with?
A: I work primarily with watercolor, but I also make prints.
Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.
A: My watercolors begin as digital photographs or video stills. I separate the image into four color channels: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, the same way a digital printer works when it outputs a print.
I then paint each layer using very transparent washes of watercolor. My paintings are like manual digital prints, using the same separations a printer would use but physically rendering them by hand.
Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?
A: I have a BFA from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and an MFA from Pratt Institute. Currently I work as a master printer at Lower East Side Printshop and as a visiting professor at Pratt Institute. At Lower East Side Printshop I have a chance to work as a collaborative printer with many intelligent, talented artists. Getting to know them and seeing their creative process is always invigorating.
I also teach printmaking classes at Pratt Institute, which is a different environment from the printshop. I get a positive, exciting energy from being around students, and feel camaraderie with the other faculty. Most faculty are part-time, working as professional artists while not teaching. They are all pretty busy, doing other amazing things besides teaching, so having time to catch up at Pratt helps feed my creative drive.
Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?
A: Christine Walia, who is the programs director at Lower East Side Printshop encouraged me to apply to the competition. She has a gift for finding opportunities for artists, and really has her finger on the pulse of the art world.
Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.
A: I was back home in North Dakota a few years ago, which is when I took the photo of my father I used to create the painting.
I had started painting these big portraits, and had always wanted to use my father as a subject. It was Christmas Day, and we had just finished eating lunch. The light was bright but soft while we were eating, and I kept looking at him and thinking it would be great for a painting.
After we ate I took a few pictures of him and my uncle that I used for paintings. Usually it takes a few minutes for the subject to feel comfortable enough to get the right photo, but I think I took two photos of my dad.
Q: Can you tell us about your larger body of work?
A: In the past year or two, I have been making large watercolors and silkscreens inspired by a vivid dream I had. In the dream I had to bury my own dead body. I looked at the dream not as scary, gory, or horrific, but as more of an awakening or a rebirth. I have had some big events in my life recently, and maybe my mind had to bury my old body, or self, to transition into the next part of my life.
At first I was trying to re-create these events in film, but this idea is more about my real life, not fictional events. The paintings portray events from my life, and drawing inspiration from classic cinema, the dreamlike scenes are composed of smoke and fog, washed-out light, or heavy darkness.
I also have been painting some landscapes, which is new for me. I was trying to emotionally charge the landscapes based on their relationships with the characters and scenes in other paintings.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Recently I have been excited about making prints again, mostly etchings, silkscreens, and lithographs. My watercolor painting technique evolved from printmaking, which was how I used to work almost exclusively before I started painting. Printmaking shows me why and how I paint, and I always carry printmaking thought or technique back to my paintings.
Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.
A: I was on a trip to New York with my parents when I was younger, and we went to see some art. There was a video where the artist was passing a raw onion back and forth between her mouth and her parents mouth’s without using their hands. Because the onion was raw they were all crying a lot, and if I remember right the video was played in reverse. My mom thought it was pretty strange, and I remember her telling me, “see, Erik, anyone can be an artist these days.” She was so right; somehow, that comment gave me hope.
Q: Who is your favorite artist?
A: Jennie C. Jones. She is the most famous artist I know, and she is really nice to me.
Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?
A: Rauschenberg, Johns, and the other artists working in lower Manhattan in the 1950s. New York seemed such a different world back then. I would take some cash back in time with me and buy a few of buildings in SoHo while I was there.
Q: What/who inspires you?
A: Other artists, and my wife. Seeing my friends and contemporaries do great things gives me a mutual feeling of happiness for them, and drive for myself. More importantly, my wife is supportive, yet tough on me. Her encouragement is crucial to everything I do.