Soul Meets Body

Erin Wozniak studies the subtle details around us—for us

Erin Wozniak’s specialty is giving you a little peek into the real. Her paintings and drawings capture mostly human subjects in the most intimate everyday moments. Close-up views of their bodies reveal sleepy faces and maps of wrinkles. Some scenes free of context, like a child’s hand clutching a string tied to a balloon, speak to a larger notion of sharing a home, and benign yet special moments with a little one. The subjects are so unguarded and exposed in the images that the viewer feels an immediate sense of their vulnerability and familiarity. (614) caught up with Wozniak to examine the look of her work, her inspiration, and her upcoming exhibits in central Ohio.

Your art has been described as “contemporary realism.” Is this a genre you purposefully studied and aspired to? 

There are so many artists and genres that I take inspiration from, with contemporary realism being one of them. I’ve always been drawn to art that requires the dedication of time and the intense labour of looking at and really studying something closely.

The nature of the representation of your subjects is arguably a “warts and all” approach. From puffy eyelids, to rolls of skin dotted with moles. How do you regard “imperfections?”

Just as I am interested in how the surface of a painting can hold time and history in its brush strokes and layers of paint, I am also fascinated with how the surface of the body is similar. The marks, scars, wrinkles, etc, of a person’s body, tell a story and are evidence of a life lived. I like to work with that evidence.

In this era of over-edited selfies, is this a way to explore those imperfections?

I don’t think my work is about imperfection vs. perfection as much as it is about human vulnerability. Recording the “imperfections” of the human body is part of the process of representing our physicality; the stuff that we are made of.

The images are of mundane scenes, but often viewed from a novel angle. Do you want the viewer to feel a familiarity with the images? Or an alienness? 

Both. My work stems from the familiar; I paint what’s around me. However, when you really look at something, study it for a long time, or look at it from a new angle, sometimes you uncover an otherness or an alienness about it. What is familiar can so easily slip away and become strange. This unsettling feeling hooks me and is what drives a lot of my work.

The colors you use are airy and unsaturated. Does this communicate a mood or intention?

Again, I think the sense of human vulnerability and permeability that I always seem to come back to in my work influences the color palette and atmosphere in my paintings and drawings. Edges soften and fade, and colors tend to be pastel, maybe pierced with a bright red or deep black.

What are your favorite materials to create with?

I love the simplicity of pencil or charcoal on paper. I’ll often sketch first with vine charcoal to block in basic shapes, or I’ll lay down powdered graphite or charcoal and work backwards with an eraser. I also love oil paint for its versatility. I always stare at a blank canvas like I forgot how to paint and think to myself, “How am I going to figure this out.” Oil paint just comes along for the ride. I tend to rework paintings a lot, painting in thin layers, then maybe thicker, sanding down paint, painting thin again, and so on.

Who are three artists you admire in Columbus?

Julie Taggart was a professor of mine at CCAD. She’s a fantastic teacher and I love her work. Mark Bush, who I’ve shown with a number of times at Hammond Harkins creates stunning portraits, and Sarah Fairchild, whose work is just mesmerizing.

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