The Art Spot: Ericka Walker

The Art Spot: Ericka Walker
This year, Uncommon Common Art began the year with another mural by Ericka Walker. Ericka Walker’s Mural – “Be Industrious That You May Live”, the motto of the King’s county Agricultural Society from 1806 onward, can be found at Longspell Point Farm on Medford Road in Kingsport.

WHO: I am a visual artist living and working in the Head of St. Margaret’s Bay here in Nova Scotia. I am also an Associate Professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in the Printmaking Area of the Fine Arts Division. I am a daughter of school teachers, farmers, steel mill workers, homemakers, and veterans. I am a settler and a recent immigrant to Canada from the United States.

WHAT: Technically speaking, the majority of my visual art practice revolves around drawing and printmaking. Conceptually, I am interested in the vernacular history of printmaking and printed ephemera and advertising, and especially the ongoing use of visual propaganda in the Western world. The history of 19th, 20th, and 21st-century agitation and integration propaganda influences my work a great deal. I often create large, multi-colored lithographic posters that borrow from and distort these histories in an effort to highlight the sociopolitical continuity of past and present.

For the past three years I have also been working on a series of publicly accessible murals. Working with willing property owners, these works draw more from the traditions of rural advertising, and the practice of using barns, outbuildings, or brick facades to advertise goods, services, and political events and affiliations. The painted mural works represent a significant change in media, though my conceptual motivations remain the same. Both my poster works and these murals involve the subtly disarming use of political rhetoric and commercial prose, embedding an aspect of critical engagement and uncertainty within an otherwise comfortably nostalgic delivery mechanism. Both advertising and propaganda have traditionally sought to shape national identity and provide audiences with a specific idea of who they are and what values ought to be upheld. I am simply using similar visual strategies to destabilize their origins and challenge our continued acceptance of those norms.

WHY: The Annapolis Valley is such a good fit for the mural work because it is an agricultural region, and the intersection between agriculture, industry, and politics is a pervasive theme in my work. On a more personal level, the genesis of a large portion of the food my family consumes comes from the Annapolis Valley, so on some level the large mural work is a reflection of gratitude for the people who work year round to feed me.

Making large, public work in the middle of the countryside – where it is largely unexpected – is an exciting proposition for me. I believe art that can upset people’s expectations has a chance of leaving a lasting impression, and of course prompts the question: “What kind of impression is important? What is urgent? What is worth making a 2200 square foot image of?” In a nutshell, I believe what happens in rural areas is not only important, but essential. It is often under recognized – especially by those of us who do not live and work in those areas – and loaded with challenges of the political, environmental, and economic sort. Farming in particular, a practice which all of us rely on for survival, is bound up with a host of intricate problems and decisions. If I can make work that alludes to the complexity or urgency of the questions farmers live with, perhaps I can also hint at how these practices are inseparable from all of our lives.

The text of the Longspell Point Farm mural is borrowed from the 19th century motto of the King’s County Agricultural Society. Shown out of its original context, I think it lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Somewhere between being a message of hope, and a warning, I imagine that no matter how a viewer reads and understands it the motto and the imagery can hint at some of the threads between the past and our current realities. The imagery is borrowed from just some of the industry’s answers to the question of how to maintain and care for the soil. From the use of red clover as a nitrogen fixing cover crop to advancements in tillage technology, there is much that can be done to care for this precious resource.

WHERE: I appreciate being able to work in both the communal environment of the print shop at NSCAD, and the solitude of my home studio. I think having a good dose of both of these environments is productive for me, and encourages a studio practice that feels balanced, inspired, and sustainable. In the print shop I feel useful to others and excited about the ideas and materials they are working with. I am fiercely protective of my solitary studio time, so that I can focus exclusively on the relationships between content, design, and mark making. Working on the murals provides a similar dichotomy. When I work with assistants, I am conversing with emerging artists in a way that allows me to be both a mentor and a learner. We cover a lot of topics, and grow quite close. On the days where I am alone, I am able to regenerate with silence, the occasional input from a raven, the livestock, or a passerby.

My print work can be found in exhibitions and collections throughout North America and internationally, currently in Novosibirsk, Russia, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. There is another mural here in the Annapolis Valley, at the intersection of Canard Street and Wellington Dyke Road. Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton, of TapRoot Farms, were the first farmers to take a chance on the mural work, and I am immensely grateful to them.