The divine Ms. JoAnn Locktov turned me on to Eric Engstrom’s art, which I’m featuring here today. (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, she’s the center of the connectivity universe!) I thought he’d be the perfect post for this #TravelTuesday because he’s the ultimate gadabout when it comes to his art, which is now on view at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, California, until January 16th. His works reflect his interests in history, vernacular architecture, and the character of “the places in-between” along the back roads of America. One of his “bibles,” William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways, remains one of my all-time favorites. I asked Eric to share a bit about his inspiration and what he is up to in 2011. Happy roaming everyone!
In his own words… I’m a great admirer of barns—those utilitarian structures that manage to define their regions and uses so perfectly, ones mainly without architects as their creators. I am also fascinated by old industrial buildings that no longer produce the goods that sparked America’s growth in the 19th and 20th centuries. All of my art is based on my original photographs taken on several cross-country trips along old secondary roads. By creating digital photographic collages and then over-painting them with acrylics, I’ve tried to enhance the mundane and to create compelling visual comments about our built environment. Recently, I’ve added three-dimensional assemblage elements to the images, bringing forward the character of the structures even more clearly.
My inspiration spans all the way back to my early childhood. My dad, also an artist, used to pack the family in the car and take us for long drives through the back roads of New England, where I became fascinated with barns and abandoned commercial buildings from the back seat. While in high school I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and dreamed of just getting in the car and driving, with camera, sketchbook, and journal to record what I’d experienced. After finishing the Rhode Island School of Design, I worked for Plimoth Plantation Museum in Massachusetts as a graphic and exhibits designer. One of my early assignments was to visit museums and tool collections on the East Coast, driving between small towns on secondary roads. Visiting places like the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, among others was a delightful part of my job. Studying in detail the barn illustrations of Eric Sloane gave me a real appreciation for American agricultural outbuildings.
Later on, I read the classic journal Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, and William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. I have continued my readings with Vanishing America by Michael Eastman, Roadside America by John Margolies, and am currently enjoying Long Way Home by Bill Barich. I’ve driven across America many times, always preferring the old numbered “US” routes to the Interstates. My most recent cross country journey in the fall of 2007 totaled over 11,000 miles, less than 400 of them were on the Interstates.
I began digitally enhancing my photographs in the late 1990s, and when I retired from the interior design field, I began creating individual digital photo-collages, each one using the same image. A couple of years ago, I began pasting the collages to canvas or hardboard (Masonite), and enhancing the images with acrylic and pencil. In this way I began to create imagined landscapes around the buildings I had rendered. By manipulating the buildings and landscapes visually, they became more interesting—the intent was that the mundane could be converted into intriguing and somewhat mysterious images. Last summer, in response to a group show requirements, I began working in the third dimension, using skills I developed years ago as an architectural model builder. The extra dimension not only adds layers to the image, it also allows the viewer to participate more fully in enjoying the work. My intent in 2011 is to explore the medium further and push toward more complex and edgy works.