How many of us are truly aware of ourselves? There is a universe inside of us, functioning naturally to keep our bodies growing and evolving against all odds. Then there is us - the I, the self, the whatever-it-is that steers the ship. Some call it the ego, others call it the mind. One thing is certain - these elements make up our existence, as a species and as individuals. What is the extent of your creativity, of your ability to conjure your ideas into reality? We’ve all had that moment. The second you’re faced with a problem and you rummage through your mind searching for the right solution, doing the math, checking the resources, and asking yourself “Is it possible?”. There is an instant right between all the resources being gathered in your brain and your mind answering “Yes!”, a second right before an idea is born. Phenomenas like this are the ones explored by an abstract painter by the name of Erica Huntzinger.
Erica was born in Elmhurst, Illinois. She found comfort in art as a youngster. When she wasn’t playing in the dirt, she was using colors to bring black and white images to life in her favorite coloring books. She progressed into using blank pages to create her own lines and shapes. For her, it was all about playing with line and pattern. Huntzinger picked up these interests as an early colorist, and her mother would nourish the creative in her. They would tour museums together all around the United States. Erica’s mother was a psychologist, and also “the closest thing to a Buddhist she had ever saw,” encouraging knowledge of not only the external world we live in but also awareness of the universe within. The home was well rounded because her father was a hardworking man of faith - he was a minister with a restaurant to run and a loving family to pray for. Under this roof she would develop her individuality and come to see that she didn't quite fit in with the city of Elmhurst. Things seemed much too familiar and uniform. Her calling was the big city or a rural area. These places spoke to her. They were communities where a person wasn't asked to be a copy of the one next to them, but communities who simply asked “Who are you?” then challenged you to prove it.
When it came time for college, Erica packed her bags to set out on a classic journey; her first stop being a university in Bloomington Normal, where she quickly found out that the request for conformity didn’t stop at the gates of suburbia and could reach many social crevices. While attending an introduction to art class, she was assigned a project for the semester to create seven works of art. Her peers all chose to birth still life and realism paintings. Erica had placed a lot of her art studies on the practice of ceramics, and so ceramic pieces were what she chose to create. At the end of the semester there was a Professor critique. Huntzinger walked into the classroom, set her pieces on the table before her critic, and waited. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…B.” he said. No feedback, no reason for his assessment. She was blown away. “Wait a minute what!?!” Erica demanded. “Would you like a C?”. “No.” she responded, picked up her works and transferred to the University of Illinois. There she found memorable, brilliant teachers, received amazing critiques, and felt her voice heard.
Her time in Champaign, Urbana is when things really started to happen for her. She was given opportunities to practice her craft and have critical conversations based around the contemporary work of hers and her peers. After a while, though, she began to contemplate her parents and their continuous serving of others, and she felt selfish. The idea of creating art felt self serving and narcissistic. She soon found a book that brought her out of her funk. It was titled Art As Medicine, by Shawn McNiff. This book on art therapy made her realize how art could inspire others.
She was back in the game - she picked up once more and headed for the big city… our big city in the midwest, good ole Chicago, to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. Now Huntzinger wanted to educate other artists on how to decipher the act of creation in their field. She wanted to show them the practices for making connections with ideas and their works and how to be aware of one’s place in their art career.
Through her work she began to teach. She would fall into trances when working - what felt like an hour would actually be three. Erica was lost in her creative mind and gallery visitors were loving it. It got to the point where she didn’t feel like she was thinking about techniques and space at all. Everything just clicked. The symbolism in her colorful, whimsical paintings are genuine and meaningful. She called her focus her “internal landscape.”. It is where her best works come from.
This past spring her show, titled Our Seas, involved an 8’x26’ canvas that she used to fluidly create with no time restraints and little boundaries. She considers it a marriage of emotion and cognition. The showemphasized that it is not only important to realize ideas to create a better experience for yourself and those around you on earth, but that emotions play an equally important part to who we are as a species. The show was displayed at the Preby gallery in Oshkosh and incorporated a sound piece by Cooper Dearie. The viewers were meant to meditate in front of her works, gain some respite from their day, and hopefully find some inspiration and feel some of the love she put into the pieces.
Erica Huntzinger believes in human equality and that we all have a right to exist. We must first acknowledge ourselves and who we truly are to find this ancient truth. Whether you are working the conveyer belt or sipping the coffee in the office, the earth is you and you are it. That is enough to show all a mutual respect. She wants us to know that their is nothing wrong with looking in for peace and that we should express it through our creative processes and finished works.
When she meditates, there is a creek in Maine she often envisions. This idea of being underneath the water symbolizes the subconscious to her. You cannot breath while you are underneath, but you can see and move which allows you to search about in the vast ocean for some of the most beautiful artifacts to bring back to the surface.
Written by Jerrod Johnson
Edited by Bethany Price