I am excited to introduce to you Twin Cities-based artist Erin Maurelli. What interests me most about her artwork is how she explores aspects of the human body through printmaking and book arts. In her work, the machine is a metaphor for the body and vice versa. I think this is powerful to think about, particularly with how Erin approaches subjects like infertility and adaptation.
Erin talks about being an experienced teaching artist in this interview too. She offers insights into being an artist and shares more on her background. Please read on and learn about Erin!
I am really curious about you, your art and your history as a printmaker and book artist! Tell me more about you and your practice.
I was trained as a Master Printer at Tamaind Institute of Lithography. It was two years of the hardest, most enjoyable work. In that time I perfected my print technique. More importantly, I learned to collaborate. As an artist, I hit a particular challenge to put another’s vision over your own. I also refer to this time as my “brainwashing.” I came to think of prints in very black & white terms. Graduate school at the University of Iowa allowed me to loosen up, explore monoprints, collage, folded structures, installation, fiber, video, and more. In my new found freedom, everything still had to be well crafted, as a rule!
Both nature and the machine are recurring themes and visuals in your art. Where does that inspiration come from? What drives you to approach such complexities?
Babies. I appear to be a typical suburban mom, but my road to motherhood was a struggle. I would describe my sex education as basic, minimal, and brief. When I became pregnant, switches and functions went into auto-pilot mode! I was amazed. I was becoming a baby machine! 15 years ago, science/medicine was just making claims about the benefits of breastmilk to premature babies. My first child was born 6 weeks early, and I quickly became versed in this world. My whole graduate thesis was based on this comparison of body vs. machine. I did work surrounding breasts (their function vs visual appeal), and raised awareness to breastfeeding mothers’ needs. I worked with the University of Iowa's Hospital Milk Bank. It was so cool!
Then my body failed me. I had multiple miscarriages and lost twin girls at 25 weeks gestation. It felt like a total betrayal of this body I had invested so much time and admiration into. This led my husband and I to consider IVF and egg donation to become pregnant again. Another strange and amazing view into a secret world. Six years ago, we had secured an egg donor, and began hormone therapy to “convince” my body it was pregnant, so a lab-grown embryo could be implanted in my uterus. Talk about science fiction! Infertility is such a taboo subject in our society, that it breaks my heart. Couples are quietly grieving the loss of hope, wonder and expectation.
What are you currently working on?
My current obsession is prosthetics and biomimicry. I am a big nerd at heart. The natural world always delivers a sense of wonder. I take that wonder a step further by imagining how humans might adapt plant, insect, amphibian and reptilian characteristics to improve our lives.
So many artists, myself included, become teaching artists. It’s rewarding and inspiring to teach others. It’s a great way to build an income as an artist too. It can also be exhausting and time consuming. How do you balance teaching with being creative?
I maintain a studio practice. I give myself deadlines. I apply to residencies and shows to give myself deadlines. I am in control of how many days a week I teach. My goal is to load my classes on MWF, so I can have time to spend in the studio. I need to create during the daytime hours, so I can pick up the mom-role in the evenings & weekends. Treating my art practice as a side business has helped me to make room for it, and be open to success.
What kinds of classes do you teach?
College: Art foundations mainly. Drawing, Color Theory, Approaching Art which I describe as visual literacy. Occasionally print or book arts. I act as a mentor to many younger artists. The art world outside of an undergraduate program requires so much more hustle than most are prepared for. I also teach adult classes at different venues around the Twin Cities.
How did you get started as a teaching artist?
I taught classes as part of my graduate training. In 2010 I was invited to be a visiting artist at Concordia University. From there, I was offered teaching positions. I find I’m frustrated when I see people doing things “the hard way,” especially in printmaking. When I ask if I can offer help or share a trick, most people are receptive. I love when teaching occurs in an organic way.
Do you have any advice for artists who are looking to starting leading workshops or finding work as a teaching artist?
You are more talented and capable than you think. Teach the things that you feel you are well experienced in. You don’t have to be an expert, because we all are improving. Be clear. Keep things simple. My lesson plans can be applied to young children as easily as they can be applied to adults. The user/student brings their own experience to classes.
What’s your favorite part about being an artist?
This is a slippery question. I am wrestling with the question of the Artist: from Shamman to Slacker and back again. I think those who make art are feared and revered and dismissed and detested in today’s society. It’s a crazy duality. This may be my first book topic. My favorite part about being an artist is people’s reaction to me when I say that I am an artist. The word “Artist” is loaded, and people’s reaction reflect where their own definition lies.
What’s your least favorite part about being an artist?
Not being paid for my talent, insight, creativity, vision and interpretations.
How do you find art opportunities?
I am constantly looking and networking and looking at other’s art. I have several websites that I hit on a regular basis. I also think of ideas and pitch them to galleries, groups, collaborators. The worst they can say is “No.”
What art or artist websites do you like to visit often?
Springboard, MRAC, NEMAA, MNbookarts, UICB, and Facebook. I also have a running list of shows, residencies and galleries - and what the deadlines are, ‘cuz I love a deadline.
Where can we find you online?
All photos courtesy of the artist Erin Maurelli.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.