Erika Ranee’s work expresses the hums and beats of small worlds writ large. Her paintings take cues from the minutiae of the natural world and pulls them all together in an intuitive visual freestyle. She has shown extensively around New York in group shows at Southampton Arts Center, Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, BravinLee programs, Platform Project Space and at Wild Palms Dusseldorf, Germany. In 2018 she had concurrent solo exhibitions at BRIC and Ground Floor Gallery, followed by two solo shows in 2019 at Lesley Heller Gallery and Freight + Volume. She works in New York.
Embedded Memories: Erika Ranee Reflects on Her Art as a Means of Preserving Moments in Time
Yassana Croizat-Glazer: What do the terms “preserve,” “embed” and “artifact” mean to you in relation to your work and the current state of our world?
Erika Ranee: I’m of the analog generation—typewriters, film cameras and photo albums. I suppose for that reason I’m inherently sentimental. Full disclosure, I have a terrible memory—it’s oddly selective. I’ll remember some obscure detail of a mundane moment thirty years ago but have no recollection of a wonderful afternoon spent with a friend two years back. I avoid reunions, because more often than not when a former classmate speaks to me with familiarity, I’m usually drawing a blank on their name—or their face. Nothing worse than that awkwardness. The last reunion I attended was five years after graduation. This isn’t a symptom of aging or senility—it’s more that I’m programmed to live fully in the moment. That’s why it’s important for me to document moments of my life with objects, trinkets, notes and photos—something tangible that I can hold in my hand. The tactility is important. The way I construct my paintings honors my need to document my memories—no matter how simple or unassuming.
Yassana Croizat-Glazer: You typically layer several different media to create your works, often burying their canvas support through this act. Would you please tell us more about this practice?
Erika Ranee: I lived in a space for 17 years and when I moved, I downsized considerably. While packing up the old space, I discovered so many treasures from my travels and life experiences. I realized that even though said treasures were buried away, I felt comfort in knowing that they were there. In my paintings, it follows the same principle; some of the media and ephemera embedded in the surfaces of the paintings are often obscured from view—sometimes ripped away and scraped down, but there’s residual information from what’s been subtracted. The dislodged scraps are recycled and reconstituted—re-contextualized as the medium takes on a different form. For instance, I’ll collage a paper note, photo or news article, often as a way to add thickness to the surface, and eventually that piece of paper is covered with layers of paint and shellac. At some point, I will cut into that area and peel away that paper mixture which now resembles tree bark or leather. It’s no longer a snippet of written text—it’s transformed by the history of process. I’ll use those pieces and collage them back onto the paintings’ surface. Recycling the re-contextualized particles is a way to preserve memories in their varied iterations.
Yassana Croizat-Glazer: You often use words as building materials, incorporating them into the very fabric of your images. What role do they play in your process of documentation?
Erika Ranee: We build our lives, adding things and experiences as we evolve. I like the idea of slowly building a visceral response through this viscose material. It starts as loose and alive like blood and water. By the time the medium congeals it has a story to tell. The story might not be discernible to whomever is looking at it—and that’s not my aim, but I know what I was feeling when I made it. I want people who view the work to project their own stories and feelings. I want it to be a malleable reading.
Yassana Croizat-Glazer: Your works have a very strong sensorial dimension. How does living in New York feed that aspect of your work?
Erika Ranee: I’m highly sensitized to sounds and smells, and I would say that I’m very perceptive. My childhood, which was spent living in a rural setting, was the perfect training ground for my future as an artist. It taught me the importance of being still—being quiet and detecting big sounds within the peace—it’s very minimalist compared to the maximalist stimuli of the city. I exist comfortably in both worlds; I suppose I’m an extremist in that way—I would feel stagnant without one to balance the other. I channel whatever is unfolding in my small universe. Right now, a new bud on my fussy houseplant in my city apartment gives me profound joy. When I’m in the country it’s the thrill and terrifying beauty of nightly howls from a pack of coy-dogs in the expansive spaces of fields, woods, hills and mountains.
Yassana Croizat-Glazer: You have travelled around the world. How has that experience shaped you and your work? If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be?
Erika Ranee: Yes, I’ve been all around the world—traveling since I was a toddler. I’ve visited five out of the seven continents—only Australia and Antarctica remain. The aforementioned Antarctica is on the top of my list along with New Zealand and Iceland. And I’d love to revisit Japan. Travel in any way shape or form—whether in my mind, by train, plane or automobile, by bike or hike—basically, if I can just get away and explore and expand my experiences, then I’m set with my creativity. My art can only be as fully dimensional as my way of thinking and I choose to see the world as openly as I can.