DPAC Awards Presents: 2009 SIGHT OF THE YEAR, Erin Money's River
It was a hot sunny Saturday in August earlier this year and we were checking out an art gallery to keep cool. There, much to our surprise and to the surprise of the tingles in the back of our neck we stopped cold, facing "The River," Erin Money's portrayal of the US Airways plane crash landing in the Hudson, much covered by the media several months before.
At that time we didn't know Erin or anything about the painting, except that it captured the personal predicament of being out there ourselves, on the wing, in the water, as the plane slowly sank into the River.
Everyone by then had seen the world-class rescue. It was in virtually every media property around the globe. However, in this cool gallery at DCAD, the Delaware College of Art & Design nothing had touched us so profoundly about that incredible rescue as Ms. Money's (not to be confused with Monet's) impressionistic objet d'art!
We asked if we could meet her. Erin called and agreed to be interviewed. Afterwards, the editors here decided that the ideal time to publish it would be today, Thanksgiving, 2009. Given the year it's been locally, nationally, globally and in home kitchens everywhere, the painting may represent a universal personal acknowledgement that something great and miraculous happened this year.
Tim: How are you doing?
Erin: I'm fine, thanks.
Tim: Let's talk about the picture. Tell me about when you first saw it.
Erin: I work at the library at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which is where I first saw it. It was on the front page of the The New York Times. As soon as I saw the photo I thought that it would be a good painting. That's the only painting that I've done of a crisis, like something that was really in the newspaper.
Erin: I loved the way it was abstracted. I kept hearing stories from different student friends of mine who saw it in the media as well and all the different aspects of the news images. What struck me the most were the people on the water.
Erin: It felt more than just the shot. I could see it and feel it at the same time. It was an occurrence that was happening right in the newspaper. To me it looked like a portrait which could be made into a painting even though it was a picture that could be made into a painting. It was another way of copying it in my mind in order to remember it.
Tim: What was the main thing?
Erin: Just the idea of all the people standing on the water... it was just so compelling. I wanted to paint it. It is abstract and I like to take things apart, like the physical body of it. It was attractive too because the people were so far away. My eye though went right to the people. I decided that was what the painting would be all about.
Tim: Where were you at the time?
Erin: I was up at school in the painting studio with six other people. Everyone was painting different things that had nothing to do with the event. It's not an atmosphere to do really fussy, small detailed oil paintings, so a lot of us were like attacking everything.
Erin: I love oil painting. I always paint on canvas because that's the best way I paint. In order to get the broad brush feeling, I used fat brushes like 1 and 2 inch brushes. I never use little tiny ones. I like to get really physical. Most of the time, I listen to really loud music.
Tim: Sounds intense.
Erin: It's a great place to work. I think it also worked because I do a lot of street photography and like the way black and white images captures everything. I used to have a lot of color in my work. It was actually really, really bright; then I decided to tone it down a lot, which is where the black and white look came in.
Erin: I have an interest in media, like how people perceive images of everything that's happening but never really experience them. I think painting them turns it into a different way of experiencing. The people on the water really interested me, so that's why painted it. The photography did not capture the experience of being out there on what was a freezing cold day.
Erin: I thought all those people were pretty anonymous too. Their personal predicament did not come through in the photo so I wanted to focus on the humanity aspect overall, rather than any particular one person. This works far better in a painting than in a photo.
Tim: Now how do you describe it? Is it impressionistic? It looks impressionistic to me.
Tim: That's what compelled me. The painting made it more of a statement actually; a wonderful quality that technology was what put people on the water and technology with all the boats and divers and helicopters and ordinary people came together.
Erin: That's interesting.
Tim: Tell about it as if the white canvas was right here.
Erin: Well, I was interested in doing some work out of news which would be reported the newspaper. There were so many things going on last winter. It just felt like the news reported was so heavy; the election, the war the economy and then came the plane.
Tim: Oh yeah.
Erin: But the idea came to me to do something in The Times before that. I picked the Times because it's something that everyone reads. I was just looking through the newspaper and Xeroxed whatever I thought was interesting. I just look through them all.
Tim: So you were in the project already before the plane crash happened.
Erin: Yeah. I was just taking copying pictures for a couple of weeks and then I found the photo in the newspaper and heard about it everywhere. But once I found the photo I studied it for a really long time. I don't usually sketch things. I feel like it deadens things for me. I like to have it the first time on the canvas.
Tim: Cool. To do that you have to possess a natural sense of proportion.
Erin: Yeah, a lot of people sketch things out. I'm more used to just figuring it out in my head. That kind of thing. Oil paint... if you don't like it, you can take turpentine on your rag and wipe it off. Then I stretched my own canvas and got it primed and then I just started painting. Usually they come out, anywhere from a week to a month.
Tim: Tell me about the reaction.
Erin: I got a lot of strong reactions. A lot of people said they really liked it. I think part of that was because it was an event that was on everybody's mind. Some others said the style of the painting made them really feel the water.
Tim: The style?
Erin: Yeah, the style of the brush...
Tim: Okay. Got it.
Erin: It was kind of this back and forth with people. People liked it because of the event and the style but some people didn't like it for the same reason; because they knew the event.
Tim: Forgetting about the technical elements of the brush, what do you see on it?
Erin: I saw a couple of things. In some ways I found it really uplifting; that a plane crash could occur and our technology could save us from it. Then I got stories from people who liked it for the magnificence of the rush to save the passengers. They've told me the painting expresses exactly what happened. Some people said that they saw it like a race; people racing to get out of the plane and then once they got out, they had to deal with the fact that they could fall off the wing into the freezing water.
Tim: I remember.
Erin: What would have happened like if someone fell and then others fell in after them in order to try to save the ones who fell first? Then you could end up having almost everybody on the wing in the water.
Tim: How did you feel?
Erin: It just created this crazy buzz. I'm not sure that the painting makes the actual occurrence more powerful or not. The buzz makes the image more powerful because more people know about what it tried to capture. I think that was just something philosophical...
Tim: I think negative reactions are just as good as positive. You don't want everyone to say, "Oh I love your work. La, la, la..." We publish frequently and I enjoy getting like, "You really blew it on this on your treatment of this or that or any coverage of real time events. We'll also get people who point out simple typos or grammatical corrections which usually happen because I forget to spell-check. I'm not pleased when those things appear but I think it's cool in a way that people would take time out to point out nit picks or whatever you want to call them. I think it shows they are reading them and that the subject topic was worth the time to suggest fixes. We welcome it all.
Erin: Yeah. I feel like that too. Some intense critique. One teacher said it was initially more interesting to her when she didn't know what the painting was about. I could understand that, even if I didn't like to hear it!
Tim: Ahh, yes, the sensitivities of an artist. I can relate.
Erin: Yeah. Some of my paintings are dark and some are uplifting. I like more closure. Some of my paintings that I do off of my street photography are a little darker. I think that's what makes them kind of twisted. I don't really know why, but it's not really intentional. It's actually kind of funny.
Erin: Because I could handle it and I always wanted to know what was bad and...
Tim: But then you hear it...
Erin: It stings a little but it's better. It is better to get hurt... like one of my room mates recently had an argument with their teacher; not on this, but something about her work.
Tim: What was it?
Erin: He said, he thought that "Her work last year was better than her work this year." It just stung her really hard.
Erin: Yeah, but they ended up becoming almost like the best friends at the end of the semester. He was really like one of the first ones that really went there to tell her.
Tim: Ah, that's great, yeah.
Erin: In the end, she improved and he became one of her friends.
Tim: That's what a teacher is supposed to do. What else would you like to say about it?
Erin: About the piece?
Tim: Yeah. Are you proud of it?
Erin: Yes, I am proud of it.
Tim: What are you going to do with it?
Erin: Someone who saw it wanted to buy it, so I sold it to him. I really appreciate him. I didn't sell it for very much, but I feel I'm like a junior in college right now. I just wanted to give it to someone. He really liked it and felt emotional about it. It's nice to be able to not think as much about, like, "How much does this oil paint cost? Or how much does this canvas cost?" and just be like... "I made this and you are having a strong reaction like, how much can you afford on it?" And then just give it to someone like that. It is the nature of the piece, I think.
Tim: Where's he going to put it?
Erin: He is a collector of art. He mailed me about buying it. Really cool guy. He told me about some books I might enjoy reading. Seems like a good guy to keep in contact with.
Tim: Should it be framed?
Erin: Should it be framed [pointing to the painting]?
Erin: I don't know. I never know about framing oil paints because, sometimes when I do a size like that, I put a little color on the side, like a frame. I kind of like the idea of a more invisible frame. It has the canvas wood, so the frame's almost like it's on the inside and I'm always very cautious about what I put on the corners. I would never put glass on top of it; not on an oil painting.
Tim: I think personally it should not be framed because then it becomes sort of a work of art - if you know what I mean - and the fact that it's a statement is much more important than it being a work of art. It is a work of art, that's obvious, but there's no need to glorify it. The painting communicates itself. It has its own voice. You don't need to frame it.
Erin: It's funny to me to talk about this painting like that!!
Tim: LOL! When did you do this, actually?
Erin: Like two weeks after it happened.
Tim: How many days did it take you to do it?
Erin: The main part took like four intense days in my studio. A lot of times, I'd go there around nine and then I'd work there until about noon. I then took little breaks, like walk around to the vending machine or something. Then I worked until like five and then I went home and got dinner. Then I went back around eight and sometimes I worked until twelve. Sometimes I slept at school.
Tim: I work like that as well.
Erin: Yeah, it's like it takes so long to get the idea clear in your head. You have to break it down into different pieces and then and then once you do that it all just comes together. At that point I just want to paint it. When I do the painting, I'm like staying up all the time, just working...
Tim: Mostly it's adrenalin. I always find that once the project is done, I'm just completely blocked out.
Erin: Yeah. Art sucks because once your project is done and you are wiped out, you have to find another to do.
Erin: I'm joking of course. Art doesn't suck. It's awesome. I love it.
Tim: I know. So it took four days?
Erin: Yeah, but then I worked on it probably for a full week after that just doing little things. It was a product of four intense days and then two weeks.
Tim: How did you choose the name?
Erin: The River?
Tim: Yeah. That's a much understated title.
Tim: Yeah, because the river had very little to do with it.
Erin: But it was also just part of the class assignment. I never thought it would be anything more than that.
Tim: That's what makes it so special. Thanks, Erin .
Erin: You're welcome, Tim.
For more information about 'The River," please feel free to contact Ms. Money directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.