Artist Highlight with Erica Spitzer Rasmussen

What path did you take to become a professional artist?
 
For a brief period during my adolescence, I thought I wanted to be an archeologist, my mother arranged for me to work on a local dig through the University of MN.  When I came home dirty with broken fingernails, I decided that wasn’t my destiny. After that, artmaking was all that I wanted to do.  Luckily, my mother and stepfather were both artists and supported my creative endeavors completely. I was sent to summer art camps and as a senior in high school, I enrolled in the post-secondary educational program the first year that it was offered in MN.  That allowed me to attend the Mpls. College of Art and Design and gain credit before I began attending full-time coursework at the University of MN.  My mother suggested that I think about becoming an art educator so that I could support myself financially, and so I went on to graduate school where I completed an M.F.A. in Studio Arts.  Four years in graduate school allowed me to hone my craft, refine my critical thinking and prepare to teach college level art. While in graduate school I also started applying for national juried shows.  That allowed me to move from being a locally exhibited artist to a nationally exhibited artist.  After being hired as a professor of art and my profile expanded, the international opportunities started appearing.  Now I teach, conduct residencies and show abroad with regularity.  
 
How would you describe the art that you make? What are the themes that tie it together?  
 
I’m a papermaker. I make sculptural garments and limited editions of handbound books. As a general rule, my sculptural work is inspired by childhood myths or adult anxieties regarding my body. I use clothing as subject matter because it provides me a ground on which to investigate identity and corporeality. My garments are metaphors. They can encompass narrative qualities, illustrate and dissolve bodily fears, or act as talismanic devices. 
 
Why do you think you’re drawn to art about myths surrounding bodies?  
 
When I was a little girl, my father told me that eating tomatoes would make me big, strong and hairy-chested. And since I was too small to tell the difference between truth and fiction, I believed him. Similarly, when I was young, there was a rumor that swallowing a watermelon seed made you pregnant. I sometimes find body-stories or body-experiences to be simultaneously comical and horrifying.  It is often these extremes in emotional reactions that drive me to produce the work, in an attempt to better comprehend each situation. 
 
Has your work surrounding bodies been healing for you at all? Have you seen your relationship to your own body transform throughout your career? 
 
Oh, yes!  I have worked through many issues by making art. I find that the slow nature of making artwork is therapeutic. For example, for years I was angry with my father for telling me such tall vegetable tales. (True confession…. I didn’t eat tomatoes for twenty years.) But after making many renditions of provocative paper underwear that were embellished with hair and tomatoes, and telling my story, I came to realize that my story was not unique. Such experiences are universal. Now I find my tomato story to be fairly benign and charming. 
 
Can you describe the process behind making Red Tape Cape, a piece that was featured in WBCA’s Member’s Exhibition? 

 
Red Tape Cape, like most other works, began with an experience. I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork that I had to execute at my day job. Like superheroes who don transformative attire when battles need to be fought, I thought I needed a cape to empower myself in the workplace. So I purchased a ridiculous amount of red painter’s tape, down-loaded and printed various documents and set to work.  It took me a year to fold and sew thousands of pieces of tape together to create the exterior. The interior was made by adhering fragments of the forms to cotton yardage with fusible interfacing. I tucked a secret note to myself regarding menial tasks into the hem.  I plan to wear the cape to a faculty meeting when the pandemic subsides. 
 
Why were you interested in judging the High School Visual Arts Contest
 
As an educator, I feel it’s important to share my knowledge and skills with others. The other reason that I give my time for judging is that I identify with emerging artists.  I remember a time when I was young and aspiring. I had so much that I wanted to say and do. I was lucky enough to have role models in my life to provide the moral support and resources needed to pursue my dreams. Judging the High School Visual Arts Contest is just one way to pay it forward. 
 
What do you hope high school artists take away from the High School Visual Arts Contest? 
I hope that young people come to understand that art can act as a form of self-expression and it can enrich our lives.  And sometimes, art can be a viable career option. 

Red Tape Cape
Erica Spitzer Rasmussen
Red tape, paperwork and a secret note, 46″ x 28″ x 20″

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