Eric March is a City-Wide Open Studios artist whose work and studio is in New Haven. He’s an oil painter with a lot of experience in other mediums such as watercolor and making sculptures. You can find his website at http://ericmarch.com. The following is an interview conducted by Annissa Carter of Artspace New Haven as a part of our Artist of New Haven program.
Seeing all this artwork in your room and I just want to know more about you so we can get a better picture
I was born if I’m from Illinois, north of Chicogo was where I grew up. I started drawing from a very young age and I showed talent at a very young age. My parents encouraged it and sent me to art classes in the Community Arts Center starting from around preschool or kindergarten.
I had a lot of interest in art like music and theater, but I really settled into painting in college and I took my art class sophomore year. Watercolor was the first medium I learned, it’s tricky but it was super fun.! It’s easy to make a mess, and if you screw up you can paint another one. I started doing oils when I moved on to bigger paintings.
The process that I’ve developed in my old paintings is really to really kind of work it and keep working on it. Oil painting is particularly suited for that because you can make it opaque or you can paint over the whole thing and change a lot of things. I like to start all my paintings by sketching them but as I go on I may want to change things.
I have a lot of interests, and I care a lot about social interaction and social justice. For a while I was painting Coney Island a lot and got involved in political movements and issues in Brooklyn and I felt myself being spread thin and wondering “wait what am I even doing?”. That seems to be a recurring problem in my life, wanting to dedicate myself to art but knowing that other things are important to me, and I’m not independently wealthy so I can’t just do whatever!
So would you say your art is an expression of your other interests?
Well, yeah! When I went to Italy I saw this sculpture of Anius fleeing with his elderly father on his shoulder and his son standing next to him and the whole thing was like a spiral like silhouette. It got me thinking what if I had to carry my father like that in a fire or something like that, like he’s a big guy he’s twice my weight and taller! So I started playing around with that idea of me carrying my dad, but soon that thought got caught up in the whole idea of migration. Mind you this was around the time that the border wall was a huge topic and when all those migrants were fleeing Syria. So the posture of the statue made its way into the story of these people crossing the Rio Grande and telling a story about hardships, migration and carrying this large burden on their shoulders. Sometimes I like to think that this image also symbolizes helpfulness and support but in a way that’s certainly a burden for whoever is carrying the weight. (The image he’s describing is of an unfinished painting he’s been working on about two migrants from a bird’s eye view crossing a river, one carrying a large white man on his shoulders *who Eric said is actually his father who modeled for him*)
Tell me about this Coney Island painting! (Top right corner)
After I finished school I moved to Brooklyn then I moved to Queens. Going to Coney Island was a great source of inspiration because it’s the perfect place to people-watch. It’s very chaotic and this sort of archadian image of humanity. There’s this big parade that happens there called the Mermaid Parade where everyone dresses as fish or sea captains and I wanted to capture this chaotic scene of all these people having a good time. I like the idea of the beach and the ocean being a stage so I set it up as such, which was a nice shift from when I was painting cityscapes and more figural paintings back when I had less space to work with.
So what have you been working on lately?
In the spring I got three big commissions, though the timeline is pretty tight to finish them, it was a lucky break for me since I’m getting paid to paint! They’re all scenes from New Haven and they’re all going up in a hospital in their new building on Sargent Drive. I’m not the only one they’ve commissioned, they’ve been looking for local artists to hire to do paintings for them. So far I have one of Quinnipiac River but since the facility is going to help people from The Hill, Fair Haven and Downtown I wanted to paint those neighborhoods as well, the one I’m currently working on is a scene of the food trucks on Long Wharf.
How do you think you’ve adapted as an artist since the start of the pandemic?
I usually work from home so my kids already understand my wife and I’s routine and there wasn’t much of a change in that aspect. One of my gigs is teaching so the biggest change for me was moving my art classes online but it was a surprisingly smooth transition, my students liked it and I don’t have to travel to and from New York all the time. What’s been interesting about this shift is discovering how much time I have when I don’t commute all the time, before this I was doing eight hours of traveling every week and getting that time back was really eye opening for me. Just being in New Haven, doing art for and of New Haven and getting commissioned by a New Haven building as a local artist feels really nice and it gave me a lot to think about.
I went on a sabbatical earlier this year and made me think about what I’m doing, who am I teaching, and who am I serving in the classes that I teach. I even started to challenge ideas about art, who is art for, and what communities are served by art. Then I started thinking critically about who my art serves, specifically who is my audience vs who actually gets to see it. Even the medium I’m using has a certain history and way of presentation. What’s nice about these commissions is that they can be seen by anyone, but I still want to think critically about who my audience is. A student of mine Carol Dunkan and I talked about this whole analysis about museums and who designs and funds them and why rich people really like them. Then I realized that museums aren’t just that, they’re institutions made to serve a certain purpose and benefit specific kinds of artists while shoving entire continents in one corner and excluding poor people and people of color. So re-evaluating all this inspired me to re-imagine the idea of museums and more ways we can showcase art.
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