INTERVIEW WITH ERIK FOSS


Artist talks about America: the painful past, grateful life, and future chaos followed by the world's end.

 



AA00

Where did you grow up?


E.F

I was born in Elgin Illinois but can thank most of my childhood memories to Pheonix Arizona, I was there from 85-96, then moved to NYC (Manhatten) where I have lived and worked ever since.



A00

What was childhood like?


E.F

Mostly was a letdown, lots of family drama with addiction and mental illness. Very aggressive and tense environment. So I didn’t really have a childhood. But this is normal for Americans in my age group I think. Thank god for skateboarding/art / underground music. There was no internet back then so we were actually weirdos.



A00

Growing up in Pheonix, what's the best memory you have from your childhood?


E.F

Skateboarding and sneaking into clubs to see bands.



A00

Do you feel that the tough childhood has driven you to love the outside world more? Like skateboarding and music.


E.F

It’s interesting how sometimes certain interests spur from trauma, I guess so, but what do I know, I’m no head doctor.



A00

Did you paint from a young age?


E.F

My mom kept reminding me that I told her that I would live and work as an artist in NYC at around age 12. So yeah for as long as I can remember.



A00

What's your studio like now?


E.F

Big and beautiful, I’m in TriBeCa, I found a miracle of a space during Covid, I hope I can keep it. I had to work in my living room for 7 years after my last business partner stole everything from me. But a lot of “friends “ stole from me I guess. But that’s another story and water under the bridge.



A00

Do you listen to music when you work?


E.F

I listen to music from the second I wake up to the second I go to sleep unless I’m talking to someone. Music is everything!



A00

Before starting your day, do you have any daily routines or rituals you go through?


E.F

I do planks (yoga exercise for tall guys with really bad backs and because I have Scoliosis). Besides that, normal stuff, make the bed, make coffee/food, and shower. I should probably meditate, but painting is there for that.



A00

Living through such a diverse, and somewhat strange era, are there any social or cultural phenomena that you find especially inspiring? or fascinated by?


E.F

911 and the hell we just went through. Now the world knows what we went through living and working in Manhatten before during and after 911. Except this nightmare was way longer and waaaaay more humans died.

I guess the birth of the internet and carrying computers in our pockets. The evolution of Technology is what really trips me out, I really obsess over it I think.

And all these dam aliens showing themselves, just come down and do what you gotta do already ( laughs ).



A00

What sort of role do / would you say artists have in society?


E.F

This is a question that can be answered in many ways. It made me think immediately of all the art schools in the world and what they gross every year, and what all the art stores gross. I wonder if it’s as much as what the art market sells. So this question makes me think of money, unfortunately, and that’s maybe because I live in a society that inspires this culture and in the most expensive city in America I guess. I should talk about the beauty of arts, but if you're actually insane enough to peruse this as a carrier, one must consider money as much as making the actual work. Maybe that’s a good thing? I still don’t know. I guess I didn’t really answer your question, sorry about that.



A00

That's OK. Some pragmatism is always important when survival is just as important as fame. Before becoming an artist, what did you do for a living?


E.F

What didn’t I do, I did whatever I had to I guess. From literally digging ditches in the deserts of Arizona to owning a gallery in downtown Manhatten. I worked from the age of 16 till about 3 years ago doing other things for money besides art to pay the bills. All I can say is, kids, if your an artist and u want to make art for a living, and grew up with nothing like I did, get really good at something that makes a lot of money quickly, u want to have the energy to make work and still work the job that buys the paint and party/have fun.



A00

Man...feels like you hustled through your life to get to where you are now. Respect to that. So what inspired you to become an artist? Was there a particular moment where you decided to live the life of an artist?


E.F

You mean the moment I decided to jump into a black pool of water not knowing how deep or temperature it was ( laughs). I don't think it was a decision on my part, I think art chose me. It might be that simple. There was no defining moment. I knew as far back as can I remember.



A00

I love that. Art chose me. Let's talk about your work. The recent obsession with the purple cobras! Tell us a bit more about the background story.


E.F

Simple, the 80’s in America. It’s about what I grew up looking at. Hot rods, low riders, cartoons, carnival rides, fairground swap meet airbrushed T-shirts, skateboard graphics. The cobra represents this culture, or there for lack of. I’m sure there’s an academic way to describe the work, but unfortunately, words are obviously not my forte (pinky up)



A00

Those raw experiences of the 80's America. Feels like you glorify it, or almost romanticize it to some extent.


E.F

I’m just telling stories, and I like to talk about the things that made the most impact on me I guess. I grew up in an interesting place if looked at in a certain way, especially eventually pulling myself out and traveling outside of this country. Americas a trip.



A00

Your cartoony style was there way back. Where did it come from?


E.F

I’ll put it this way, dropping 4 hits of very very pure acid and going to Disneyland with my friends on my 21st bday might have been the best education of my life. I never saw the world / America / humans/capitalism the same again, or shall I say, I may have never really seen it before that day.



A00

When you say, "I never saw the world / America / humans/capitalism the same again" what do you mean exactly?


E.F

Certain psychedelic experiences will make the user see things in a different light is all. It brought certain subjects to the surface sort to speak. I think that’s pretty apparent in my work if looked at it closely, certainly the titles of the work.



A00

The consumption of culture, imageries, goods, etc, has become more and more intense in the past few decades. The American dream is almost like the father of capitalism.


E.F

It’s spreading like a disease, isn’t it? Money is a tool, and if abused like anything else, can be toxic and ultimately deadly. I try to shed light on these subjects in my own way through what I make. It’s a very heavy topic and system.



A00

In your work, in both sculptures and drawings, you have this tendency or urge to put one figure on top of another. Like a totem pole. Can you tell us more?


E.F

Might have to do with how I grew up ( partially ), which was surrounded by Indian reservations. I attended public schools so I was soaking in it. It’s part of my youth. The stacked collages/sculptures are about America. I learned from the horse's mouth sorta speak. Maybe it’s my apology to those that suffered, most definitely my version of totem poles. Or maybe a nod to the indigenous people that were here before we arrived. To be honest I’m still figuring it all out. But it may come from that place. Or maybe I just wanna see heads stacked.



A00

American history, and your personal history, seem to be the core of your practice. Tell us 5 things you love about the American culture.


E.F

Music, art, cinema, theatre, fashion. Not sure if this is the answer you're looking for.



A00

Mickey Mouse is a character that keeps coming up in your work. Are you really into Disney? or is there some other reason?


E.F

Again, Drop Acid at Disneyland, you will see the truth.



A00

Your work has an uptempo enthusiastic feel to it, perhaps due to your use of colors and cartoon references, but there is also something dark and hidden. Almost like a dark humor sort of thing.


E.F

My favorite comedians are George Carlin and Dave Chappelle, my art is kinda like that. As I believe marry Poppins once said, A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.



A00

We noticed that artists with aggressive strokes and seemingly cartoony style can always draw and paint delicate stuff if they choose to. Why is your style of work so attractive to you?


E.F

Not sure if I have a style, I’ve been telling stories with my work for about 30 years, and in those years I’ve tried to explore every medium at my disposal. Sometimes that’s photography, sometimes it’s a sculpture, and sometimes it’s throwing toilet paper or paint-covered dildos at canvases. Whatever it takes to get the point across. And when I’m feeling poetic, I’ll make abstract paintings. But even some of those have stories, there just not so literal.



A00

Paint-covered dildos. That's hilarious. Is there any topic or theme you always wanted to dive into but haven't had a chance yet?


E.F

Off the top of my head, I can’t really say, ideas are cruising in and out of my brain. There’s a couple of really heavy religious themes I'd like to approach, but they're kinda those things that are so scandalous that they may wind up getting me killed, so maybe a death bed gesture. Like those military cats that expose super sensitive subjects when they're dying.



A00

Your experience of art is so diverse, I love it. When you're working on a new piece, I'm sure there's time to time where you hit that wall, perhaps feeling stuck or unsure. What do you do to get back on track? or find Peace?


E.F

The only time I’ve ever had a “ block” is while heartbroken, especially if they steal your dog. But yeah usually I’m good.



A00

That must have been a terrible experience? Why would anyone steal your dog?


E.F

Some people are built for that kind of thing I guess.



A00

Artist, as a career choice, is somewhat detached from the notion of retirement. We often assume artists would just keep making art till their very last moment. What do you think?


E.F

I will die with the next body of work on my mind and most likely with some sort of paint under my nails. There’s no retirement if you're the real deal.



A00

What do you think you'll be in your 60s, 70s, 80s?


E.F

If there’s still a planet, exactly what I am now. An artist.



A00

It's so absurd that we actually think about not having a planet in the near future nowadays. The environmental issues, pandemic, politics, social...the list goes on. What do you think we all need to do to make it better?


E.F

Stop eating animals and animal products, stop using oil and coal for energy, focus on science, and imprison those responsible for the damage done to this planet. But it’s too late, humanity is coming to an end, this is why I started making bronze sculptures, I wanted to leave something behind that would give the next dominant species an idea of what came before. And good god, stop having children, hasn't anyone seen Terminator??



A00

Some might feel that this is all conspiracy but it's all scientifically true, and you've hit pretty much all the important points here. It's all undeniably true that we, as a whole, are at the tipping point. So in some ways, your work is almost like a preparation for death? Leaving those artifacts for the future...


E.F

My work is my message to the people/beings to follow our culture. I always wanted to be Indiana Jones growing up. Or someone like him, someone that seen the truths about the past. Like finding the grail. Maybe my work can be that for someone. It’s kinda fun having a lifetime goal. Keeps my busy brain occupied.



A00

You briefly touched on themes like the abuse of money in capitalism and the toxicity of modern society. What's great is that it doesn't feel like you're disgusted by it. You seem to accept it as it is but also being aware of how problematic it is. Am I understanding you correctly?


E.F

I would be pretty arrogant to think that I could stop a ten thousand bolder with a match stick. So yeah I embrace it. I was born on this soil, so I utilize the freedoms it’s afforded me. I do walk a different path than most I feel. I’ve helped a lot of people along my travels. Money is a tool, and if used properly, can be used for good. I always loved the story of Robinhood. Robinhood was a hero to me growing up.



A00

The product of advancement as a species, in terms of culture, medicine, technology, etc, has certainly brought multiple levels of entertainment and awe to the world. It certainly has done that for you considering your love for music and skateboarding. Do you ever feel that this so-called "advancement" is merely a product of our greed and fear?


E.F

You can look at it that way, I mean to even have this conversation as a person making a living from pushing pretty colors around on worthless surfaces is as decadent as it gets. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I’m just grateful I made it through the shit to have this convo with you all. Is our culture born from greed and fear? Absolutely! But it’s so much more. And there are puppet masters. We all are pawns, aren’t we? Or is this all a simulation? This strange and painful life. (laughs).



A00

Say that human, as a species, is to face its end day. What do you think will happen after?


E.F

I imagine something between the movies like the Book of Eli and Predator...or the event that took the dinosaurs. Who knows. But global warming is real, overpopulation is real. And things end, and we are simply visitors here. It would be silly to think otherwise. So enjoy the ride, and yeah, no ride is ever freeeeeeee.



A00

Man you just took us to a whole nother level of deep thoughts. What’s ture is true. But “no ride is ever free”... thats deep, especially coming from you. Before our heads explode...you mentioned that you also take photographs in 35mm...?


E.F

Yup, I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos. I’ve been documenting my day to day since the early ’90s. I mean, who else was going to?



A00

Documentation is something common amongst all good artists. If you could go back in time on a Delorian, what era would you go to?


E.F

Probably right around the time of Christ, would like to get that story straight. And besides that, maybe right before world war 2, I’d murder that cunt, Hitler.



A00

Your overall hustle and, excuse my language, no bull sh*t attitude is something I really enjoy. I think it's reflected massively in your work, and perhaps living in New York just highlights this aspect of you even more. You worked in NYC for over 2 decades now. Tell us about the city from your view.


E.F

Creatively speaking, it’s the perfect source for inspiration. It’s all here. It’s the perfect creating machine. I will most likely die here.



A00

One more thing, tell us a secret!


E.F

I’ll give you 2. I’ve seen UFOs, and I have the photo to prove it. And I was a lead witness in a case where a cop shot his wife in the head, I testified against the cop, my testimony put his murderous ass away for life.
Some images are provided by the artist, some are taken from the artist’s instagram (with permission)
 
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