Erin Payne: Winner of New American Paintings Reader's Choice!

Erin Payne (NAP #93, MFA ANNUAL) has been selected by our blog readers as the winner of this year's New American Paintings Reader's Choice Prize. The Prize is a $500 gift card sponsored by Blick Art Materials, and, thanks to NEXT ART CHICAGO, Payne will also have a painting hung at the fair in April.

Thanks to our sponsors mentioned above, and to you, "The Reader," for making this award possible (and fun). After the jump, read a conversation between Payne and our Austin Contributor, Brian Fee, and see more of Payne's work.

Erin Payne

Erin Payne conjures a bracing nostalgia in her Piles Paintings, blending memories and location in colorful fabric sundaes set in front of (or within) naturalistic landscapes. She has cultivated this transfixing style throughout exhibitions in California, an MFA from Claremont Graduate University, and now the New American Paintings Annual Reader's Choice award.

Erin Payne | Home on the Range, Oil on panel, 60” x 55”, 2010. Image courtesy the artist.

Brian Fee: I am intrigued by this blend of realism and abstraction within your ongoing Piles Project. Specifically, how the real textile piles are executed in gestural brushwork, while the artificial landscapes and backdrops maintain this more naturalistic impression. Could you talk about this?

Erin Payne: Blurring the lines between reality and illusion is important to me with the Pile Paintings, because I’m addressing an ambiguous relationship to place and the environment, and navigating the slippery definitions of those terms. The result is a mix of realism and abstraction. There is also a blending of “thing-ness” with place that is expressed at times through the fluidity of the paint, and sometimes through mimicry between pile and landscape.

Erin Payne | Manzanita with Pile 20, Oil on panel, 60” x 60”, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

I relate to the piles in an anthropomorphic way. They become displaced characters that both drip, ooze and blend with — as well as stand in sharp opposition to — the landscapes. Painting the illusion of different types of fabric using realism with abstraction allows me to indulge in uncertainty, lavishing freedom and specificity at the same time. I want the landscapes in these Pile Paintings to have enough information so that the piles can exist within a place, but not so much  that the viewer can’t move around freely within them.

Erin Payne | Drift, Oil on canvas, 24” x 24”, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

One distinction between the way I paint the backdrop paintings and the landscapes in the pile paintings is that the landscapes on the backdrops carry a sort of mystique for me. I’ve never traveled to these actual places. I love the stories of the viewing spectacles of Frederic Edwin Church’s 19th-century landscape paintings.  Enormous crowds gathered in New York City to view The Icebergs. Revealing this “exotic” frozen land was mesmerizing. It hits that same chord in me: this desire to connect to a place by creating my idea of it. My landscapes, however, are pieced together from source images that I gather from books, magazines, the Internet, and from my idea of what it may actually look like there. I paint the backdrops passably natural, though not realistic enough to even begin to trick the eye. I want them to function as landscape paintings in the landscape.

Erin Payne | Ice Pile, Oil on canvas, 72” x 72”, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

BF: So have you ever displayed Piles paintings, or just the piled fabric and textiles, in front of a landscape diorama, like an installation?

EP: Yes I have. It’s a fun play with reality and illusion, where the painting sets the “place” for the pile, even though the backdrop is within an actual place. For me, they function like two characters in a scenario that is immensely larger than either one can comprehend. Who is the subject and who is the prop, and which location is actually real? It’s very funny and human to me. When I pose these setups in my studio, I view the process like an exercise and use the situations to construct some of the paintings.

Erin Payne | Pile with Diorama, Diorama: oil on PVC sheets and wood, 72” x 144”; fabric pile: various, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

BF: Can you trace the artistic evolution from your Diorama Project and the Piles to Memory Lane for Lagerstroemia, your contribution to Friday Night Lights & Sunday Afternoons at Summercamp Project Project?

EP: Memory Lane for Lagerstroemia was a site-specific piece that I created for the show. The majority of the exhibition space is outdoors, and I knew I wanted to make a piece that responded to one of the crepe myrtle trees on the property. The crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is a big fixture in the Southern California urban landscape, because it’s fairly drought-resistant and produces abundant flowers, but it's originally from Southeast Asia. I thought that the tree sort of functioned as a surrogate for our own displacement in the urban landscape, much like the piles do in the Pile Paintings.

Erin Payne |  Documentation of Memory Lane for Lagerstroemia, Oil on canvas, canvas size: 76” x 30”, and various materials. Site-specific installation for Friday Night Lights & Sunday Afternoons at Summercamp Project Project, El Sereno, CA, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

I created a freestanding canvas backdrop and painted my version of the Huangshan Mountain Range in China where crepe myrtles are native. The backdrop stood on one side of the tree and a full-length vanity mirror on the opposite side, so the tree could “view” itself in its ancestral homeland. I have since further expanded the project to include a second panel and traveled around Los Angeles County photographing it behind different crepe myrtle trees, much in the spirit of the Diorama Project, except that there is a stronger figure/ground relationship more akin to the Pile Project. Some of this expanded documentation was published in Articulate (BookMark Publishing; curated and edited by Alex Moore and Emily Smith, 2011).

Erin Payne | Documentation of Memory Lane for Lagerstroemia (Expanded), detail. Oil on canvas, canvas size: 76” x 60” and various materials and locations. Image published in Articulate (BookMark Publishing, curated and edited by Alex Moore and Emily Smith, 2011).

BF: How do you want to further channel your artistic message, and what can we look forward to in 2012?

EP: I plan to continue working on both the Pile Paintings and site-specific paintings and experiential pieces. All of the work weaves back and forth, informing and imbedding itself in the other.

In February I will be included in a show called Landscape Where Nothing Officially Exists, in conjunction with Un-Space Ground at the College Arts Association Conference in Los Angeles. In the Fall I’ll be involved in another Summercamp Project Project show, in collaboration with Side Street Projects in Pasadena. The work will be site-specific and collaborative. And of course at the end of April, thanks to the New American Painting’s Reader's Choice Poll, I’ll be showing a new Pile Painting at Next Art Chicago!

Erin Payne | Dune, Oil on canvas, 24” x 24”, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.


Erin Payne's work was featured in two Fall 2011 shows in conjunction with Platform Los Angeles at the LA mart: Boom, Southern California MFA Invitational and Realm of Realism, curated by Shane Guffogg. Additionally, she contributed to Friday Night Lights & Sunday Afternoons at Summercamp Project Project. A previous interview conducted by Ellen Caldwell can be found on our blog here.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).


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