The Art Spot: Ericka Walker
This year, Uncommon Common Art began their season with Ericka Walker’s mural, titled “Be Industrious That You May Live” (the motto of the King’s county Agricultural Society from 1806 onward). It can be found at Longspell Point Farm on Medford Road in Kingsport.
- WHO: In a few sentences, please tell us about yourself.
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. I enjoy spending time working and relaxing outdoors, camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, building retaining walls, picking blueberries, splitting fire wood, and cooking food over an open fire.
- WHAT: What is your artistic medium? How did you come to this style?
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. I am interested in pointing to the complex realities and pervasive ills associated with our modern condition, many of which have been ongoing in one form or another since the onset of the 1st World War, and compounded ever since.
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: Why the Annapolis Valley, and why have you chosen to work publicly on such a large scale?
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. Additionally, King’s County is the location of Uncommon Common Art’s annual exhibition of site specific art works. Being a part of this event has put me in touch with people and programming integral to the health and creativity of the Annapolis Valley. It’s a privilege to be welcomed into this region.
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.
Working at Longspell Point Farms – the enterprise of Paula, Jeff, and Ben MacMahon – was a perfect fit, and an unexpected windfall. Uncommon Common Art’s director, Terry Drahos, had a hunch that the MacMahon’s were supporters of the arts and that their farming practices would be a good fit for a contemporary mural about farming. She was entirely on-point. Their farming practices reflect their belief that they are stewards of this land and the environment AND that they have a responsibility to provide their neighbors and fellow Nova Scotians with safe and nutrient-rich produce and meat.
The variety of ways that the McMahons look after the health of their soil is just one of the ways they satisfy these responsibilities. There is much to be said about the topic of soil conservation and the practices and technology that can be employed to ensure that existence of healthy topsoil remains a reality for generations to come. To make a long story very short, the imagery in this mural 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.
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 it’s 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.
WHERE: Where do you work & where can we find your work?
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.