Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Erin Currier canonizes everyday saints with paint and trash.
The Santa Fe artist could draw before she could speak.
Today, she combines rendering with collage and acrylics to create portraits in examination of privilege, strife and power.
Currier’s focus on garbage started when she was working as a barista in Taos while studying at the old College of Santa Fe.
“I was just blown away by how much was thrown away,” she said. “I started collaging that – tea boxes, tea wrappers, coffee cups.”
The artist created a series of Buddhist deities using the coffee shop trash.
A Taos gallery picked up her work.
A descendant of the lithographer Nathaniel Currier of Currier & Ives fame, today, she travels the globe collecting both cultures and garbage everywhere she goes.
She spent the proceeds from her first show circling the globe. She trained with Kung Fu masters in Beijing, tangoed in Buenos Aires and ate dinner on dirt floors with Tibetan exiles in Nepal.
“Ever since that inspired a whole new series of work, I take the proceeds and buy plane tickets,” she said. “I’ve never really owned anything. All my resources go into traveling. I guess I’m a seeker.”
Eddies of the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera ripple through her work, along with Buddhist iconography and the composition of the Spanish Colonial santeros.
“I sketch it on panel and paint it,” Currier explained. “So I start out with a complete acrylic painting and glue around the materials on it.”
Currier created a portrait of the Taos Society of Artists co-founder Oscar Berninghaus, haloed in a mandala of old playing cards and an empty box of farolito candles. Currier based the artist’s face on a 1951 Laura Gilpin photograph. She attached a paintbrush to his hand and used a 1930s tourist guide of the pueblos as background.
“I knew almost nothing about him,” she said.
She patched the artist’s jacket with paintbrush wrappers and cage-free egg packaging to symbolize Berninghaus’ flight from the St. Louis advertising world to New Mexico.
A portrait of a veiled quartet of Afghan skateboarders emerged from a trip to the Middle East in “Kabuli Schoolgirls.”
She reinterpreted a balcony scene of women in multicultural garb after Édouard Manet’s famous “Le Balcon.”
She also updated the Impressionist figures with more contemporary Parisian women from North Africa and the Middle East.
A portrait of Gustavo Arellano of “Ask a Mexican” fame shows the columnist cradling his book and a taco above script calling him the “Patron Saint of Tacos.”
“I had to sacrifice a book” for that painting, Currier said with a laugh.
She pasted the portrait with Mexican bingo cards and farolito candle box wrappings.
Currier papered the embroidered blouse on a portrait of Mexican singer Lila Downs with orange bag wrappings from Thailand. The singer’s bracelet came from Italian chocolate wrappings
“To me, creativity is as necessary as breathing or eating or sleeping,” Currier said. “I don’t see it as separate from my life; it’s completely integrated.
“I bring out the saint in everyone.”
Currier is planning a solo show after a 2019 residency at Joshua Tree National Park in May and an annual solo show at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery in September.
Her work hangs in the permanent collections of the Harwood Museum in Taos, the state of New Mexico public collection and the University of Arizona Museum of Art, as well as in the private collections of Bernardo Bertolucci, Lisa Bonet, John Cusack, Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Gibson, Coretta Scott King, Julia Roberts, Carlos Santana and Martin Sheen.