Erin Starr is a Rhode-Island-based artist. Her piece titled “Peace and Reflect” won second place in our Healing Power of the Arts in Isolation show. Starr is currently showing in the Ad Art show at the Oculus in New York City; read on to hear more about what drives her painting!
What themes do you address in your work? Are there any motifs/symbols that you like to use throughout your work?
I don’t use symbols so much, but there are two things that are very important for me to address. One is the female—I do a lot of figurative work, and it’s usually drawn from my own self-motivated feeling. And the second most important thing is the latest work that I’ve done, which started out with a series about Peaceful Reflections, and water, primarily more representational. I’ve gone more into the feeling that it creates for me, and hopefully for other people. I tend to go back and forth; sometimes the figures can be a little more angry or aggressive, and then the water is soothing, so it brings me back and forth to two different places of emotion. I have trouble sticking to just one thing, because I paint more from emotion.
Can you describe the relationship between your work and mental health, whether it be your own mental health, that of viewers and consumers of your work, general concepts, etc.?
You have all kinds of people who view artwork for different reasons, but I think one thing people view my work for is the same reason that I paint it: the strong female. The person wants to feel, like me, that women have a stronger place in the world than what we have at the moment.
And then, regarding my latest work, I think that, during this time of isolation and probably even before, everybody looks for something that helps them feel more soothed and relaxed; more peaceful. I think that my work might help people feel that when they look at it, because that’s what it does for me, that’s the reason I paint it. People have a lot of emotions and anxieties and those feelings tend to come out in my work.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The female, the figure; I’ve gone through lots of stages with that in my life. Sometimes it’s been to create a woman that is very strong and bold in color, maybe for somebody who feels vulnerable in the world that we’re in. I think that’s been my focus with the figures.
With the new series that I’ve done, which is mostly water, oceans, the depth and the layers that you see in the water, it’s almost music, it’s like rhythm and feeling; you get the layers of that.
Can you describe your artistic process?
Usually working at a couple of things at a time. I use a lot of different materials; I use acrylic and oil paint, I use watercolor in my drawings. I really enjoy the layering of the paint. So I can do something with acrylic, with oil on top, with different types of texture in it. And I really like ink, the way that it moves on the canvas, and flows, kind of like water flows.
What is your most notable piece? As in, your favorite, or one with an interesting story behind it, or a piece that especially frustrated you, etc.
My favorite piece hangs in my house. It’s an oil painting that I did twenty years ago. It’s a woman who is reaching over and pulling her hair; she looks like she could be running a race, or that she’s very frustrated. I like to look at it, I like the way it made me feel when I painted it, I like that it was all oil. For me, when I look at it, I feel that she is really just pulling on her hair in frustration.
When I painted it, I was going through changes in my life. I moved, and lots of things were going on, so for me it was a transitional moment. I used to teach third grade for ten years, and I would paint in the evening, I would paint on the weekend, I'd paint in the summer. But I never stopped painting. I was overwhelmed with a lot of stuff at the time.
What do you hope that your work conveys?
Mostly, I hope that if somebody is looking at it, it doesn’t just look like a painting, that it conveys some feelings for them, something that they’re drawn to. That it has a message, whether it be a message about finding that peaceful place, or the message that women should feel confident and bold and powerful...
Right now I’m showing at the World Trade Center in New York, in the Ad Art Show [through the end of September 2020].
Obviously, as an artist, [the pandemic] is a hard time. I had some things I was really looking forward to, like a show that was going to start in January in Belgium for six months. I worked on it for a year. I can’t even get all the work there; it was going to be thirty different paintings.
Art is an isolated thing anyway, but you also want to be able to show work, and for a few months I really felt like it was sad. There was so much sadness; nobody wanted to be selfish but we just didn't know where this was going. All of that emotion came out in my artwork; I did a lot of females that were looking lonely; I named them “Isolation” and all kinds of things, and I went back and forth between the water and the figure. I think it made me grow as an artist because it was time to reflect on a lot of stuff that came out of my artwork. So it was okay in that respect. I’m glad that I found a way to still show work.