Erin Curtis & Stephanie Wagner: Vacation Dreams
Catalog essay by Erika Morawski:
Everyone I know dreams about vacations—vacations of the past, vacations of the future, vacations that have become tradition, and impossible vacations that will never be. In their first joint venture, Stephanie Wagner and Erin Curtis decided to use the theme “Vacation Dreams” as the connection between their respective artistic contributions. Both artists are creating work based on this theme and for the Making It Together show. Wagner and Curtis are utilizing the concept of the show and this proposed topic in order to create fresh pieces that rely on the combination of inspiration from new subject matter and the further development of themes they have previously addressed in their art.
As I write this essay, both Wagner and Curtis are finishing their pieces for the show. Consequently, I can only hope to record or capture the general essence and direction of their current work-in-progress. I hope to reveal what I can of the inspirations and artistic inclinations of these two artists, both for this specific project and in their broader artistic careers. Wagner and Curtis chose this theme because everyone can relate to dreaming about vacation. And yet, while it is a broad theme that concerns almost all people, each person’s experience is unique, which allows these artists to develop this theme in their own distinctive manner. One thing is certain of this shared theme; both Wagner and Curtis are taking concrete, specific types of vacations, such as beach vacations or trips to the mountains, as the subject matter and framework for their explorations. These investigations then delve into the aspirations, inspirations, memories, temporality, and timelessness behind the “Dream” part of their topic.
My first exposure to the theme “Vacation Dreams” occurred as I met with Stephanie Wagner in the ceramics studio, amidst the various pieces she is preparing for the show. Hand built structures stood in various stages of completion—one was already glazed, one fired, a few at different levels of dryness, and others stood as the still-wet, undefined and unadorned shapes of newly formed pieces.
Wagner’s clay pieces have an undeniable tropical beach motif running through them. The most finished piece I saw is a pointed, yellowish-tan glazed structurethat Wagner intends to be reminiscent of a sand castle. Next to that stood a not-yet glazed piece that strongly resembles the shape of a sunbonnet. Flowers and other organic shapes sprout off of the central piece on wire, creating a miniature landscape of palm trees.
Wagner informed me that this piece, like many of the others already started, is simply the top. She plans to create round, columnar bases for many of these—some taller than others, some situated on plate like surfaces, all eventually adorned with her never-ending supply of craft store inspired details. And it is in these bases, and the decorative techniques Wagner applies to them, that I got a glimpse of Wagner’s deeper influences for “Vacation Dreams.”
Stephanie Wagner’s art from the last year or so has explored issues of domesticity, particularly the frustration and entrapment women feel in their household positions. She incorporates this theme in her ceramic art for “Vacation Dreams.” Much of the decoration and texture on each piece comes from the lace, fringe, silk flowers, and other craft store paraphernalia that Wagner dips in clay slip and then applies to the surface of these pieces. She incorporates many of these materials into the work because of their relation to vacations, such as flowers from a lei and strands from a grass hula skirt. Overall, her choice of decorative material speaks of the limited self-expression available to housewives. These details serve to represent the often restricted artistic and creative outlets available in the domestic sphere. Here women are confined to attempts of self-articulation through household decorations such as curtains, tablecloths, centerpieces, and creations from the kitchen.
Indeed, I could clearly see Wagner intends for her ceramic fabrications to recall table centerpieces and carefully decorated cakes. Domestic feelings of futility and confinement are masterfully conveyed through the fragile appearance of some of the decorations, which emit a feeling of forgotten efforts as flower petals threaten to crack off. These formal attributes lend to the type of “dreams” that Wagner’s art refers to. Wagner points out how domestic women carefully express their desires, their “Vacation Dreams,” through the methods available to them, such as household crafts. Her art also indicates how the hopes and memories embedded in these domestic creations often remain unacknowledged or forgotten by everyone else. But, for the housewife at least, these creations represent opportunities, whether real or imagined, to escape to another place.
In contrast to Stephanie Wagner’s three-dimensional structures Erin Curtis creates large two-dimensional, collagedpaintings. Although she plans to continue to work this way for her piece for “Vacation Dreams,” it will be interesting to see how her current surroundings affect the outcome of her art. Curtis is presently in Vermont, where she is a part of an artist residency program. But, she is no stranger to the northeast. Curtis grew up in the small town of Saratoga Springs, New York, and she openly admits that this environment continues to play a great role in how she perceives the world and in how she creates art.
Curtis acknowledges that because she spent her childhood in the Hudson Valley, the Hudson River School has influenced past projects. These artists influence Curtis not only because of their shared geographical location, but also because, for her, the Hudson River School represents the first paintings of white man’s patriotic, idealized, and propagandistic America. She will potentially reference this artistic tradition and the manner in which it represented the country in her art for this show. In keeping with her past interests, Curtis will try to capture the contradictions found in varying representations and ideologies of what America is, was, and should be. An examination of the incongruities between different people’s memories and hopes will unquestionably come through in her employment of the “Vacation Dreams” theme. At this point, Curtis plans to depict a family vacation of tension and awkwardness. This idea is on par with her previous experiments concerning the fractured and layered nature of memories and her formal ventures into creating spaces that are simultaneously cohesive and threatening to fall apart. In a statement about her art, Curtis claims that she does not want the pieces that she creates to seem “seamless or rational.” Rather, her scenes, which waver between chaos and order, are, for Curtis, more representative of contemporary society.
The “Vacation Dreams” theme will certainly present Curtis with an opportunity to explore subject matter and formal issues that intrigue her. Vacations often vacillate between harmony and chaos. People often have such great expectations for vacations, and the slightest unplanned incident or detail can wreck the entire vacation in the mind of the vacationer. All of these vacation hopes and memories are a part of the multifaceted and layered experiences that Curtis investigates and attempts to capture in her art.
By choosing the theme “Vacation Dreams” for their cooperative effort, Stephanie Wagner and Erin Curtis will exhibit art that not only speaks of their own personal and artistic interests, but that also presents pieces that speak of a theme familiar to all people. They explore these different facets, and this in turn imparts fresh concerns for them to play with and address in their art. “Vacation Dreams” offers both artists a fun and carefree theme in which to explore and expand upon both new and old themes and styles. And, as a viewer, I in turn bring my own “Vacation Dreams,” both past memories and future hopes, to their art.