NORMAN — For emerging artist Erin Latham, art is both a way to manipulate her environment and celebrate nature.
Latham’s recent work explores the idea of environment by creating installations of scenes, like the kelp forest of prints she created as a 2013 Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition Momentum Spotlight artist.
The University of Oklahoma alumna completed a master’s in printmaking from Pratt Institute in New York City in 2012. Since then she has moved back to her hometown of Norman and is learning to take her own advice to grow where she’s planted.
Latham’s prints are appearing at The Social Club, 106 S. Crawford Ave., beginning today as a part of the 2nd Friday Circuit of Art.
For more on Latham visit erinelatham.com.
Q: How did you get involved with art in the first place?
A: I took some classes in high school, but really I was in to everything — I was in band and all that stuff, I was a swimmer. It really wasn’t until college that I got excited about art.
Q: How did you decide on the mediums that you studied?
A: I just naturally fell into painting and now looking back at it I realize I really wasn’t a very good painter. (laughing) I took a silkscreen class with Curtis Jones at OU and really liked it. Just the separation of layers — and that’s how I was painting anyway, was layering things up. After that first silkscreen class I just really got excited about printmaking. But I really still liked painting so I double majored.
Then in graduate school I just focused on printmaking. That’s just what I like to do. And it’s predominantly relief printmaking, woodblocking now, some silkscreens.
Q: How did you get to the creative place you are now? I saw on your website that nature is kind of your thing, how did you get to that place?
A: In New York I just worked on all this stuff in different mediums but same subject matter and all printmaking mediums. Living in such an urban environment you miss — there’s not what we have in Oklahoma, there’s not open fields anywhere. You have to drive hours to find that. I started watching all these documentaries about the earth and just really missing being in a less urban environment. I got obsessed with the idea of making this forest out of paper and creating this space that totally transforms the gallery.
Initially I wanted to grow it out of local plants I had been propagating, but it’s something that’s on the back burner now. It’s a project that I’d have to have a lot of money, more space and a few years to make happen.
I just started making prints and deciding to turn it in to an environment. Since I’ve focused on natural environments it’s made my work that much better. I needed to focus on something and have a direction. Otherwise it was going to be a lot of things that don’t come together.
Q: What message do you want people to get out of your art?
A: I’m interested in creating these environments, whether they’re small scale or on two-dimensional paper, that sort of envelope the viewer and take them to an imagined landscape, an imagined place, but that reference the actual enough that they might be interested in seeking that out and trying to get people more involved with the actual environment.
I think I got really interested in sustainability and the idea of really understanding what you use and where it came from. I’m also really interested in traditional printmaking and how to make that more sustainable because it’s really toxic and it can be pretty wasteful as far as paper products.
I guess right now I’m hoping my work becomes completely sustainable and good for the earth, but right now it’s more about bringing awareness to environments that actually exist and then calling into question why do we make these fake environments at natural history museums? Not that it’s a bad thing, but the idea of when the actual exists why go see the fake?
Q: Has actually working as a full-time artist matched your expectations of what it would be like?
A: It’s hard. A lot of it is rectifying money with the time you should be spending in the studio. I’ve sold some things but I’m definitely not living off of the wages from the prints I make. I’m lucky because I have the ability to teach, so I’ve figured out how to seek out those venues where kids are being taught art.
I don’t know what I was thinking it’d be like when I was younger. I got my master’s in order to do residencies, artist residencies, because I just wanted to travel and get paid to make art — so that’s the dream.
It’s totally possible, but you have to work all the time on your work and promote your work. There’s money out there for artists, there’s tons of money, you just have to be able to write and sell yourself.
It’s a lot different. I figured out that not only are you the creator, you’re also the publicist and the accountant, bookkeeping. You have to be able to wear many hats if you want to do this.
Q: What are your goals for the immediate future?
A: I actually have a residency this summer in Scotland. I’m excited about that. The project is going to be making small scale installations in the actual environment and then photographing them.
And then I have all these ideas about how to create environments without actually creating environments, like using light and sound to trick you into feeling like you’re in spaces that you’re not in.
Right now I’m just working on some traditional prints for a show in May at the Social Club. It’s nice to go back to small scale and do some smaller things.