Erin Mahorney’s work is marked by abstracted forms, expressing in the moment emotions via the use of thick, acrylic brushstrokes on canvas. Erin was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and studied Marketing and Studio Art at Indiana University. In 2016, after pursuing a career in Sales and Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, she decidedly quit and pursued a life as a painter.
As a young child, Mahorney developed a methodical nature and deep curiosity regarding other cultures and ways of life. She sought to fulfill that curiosity by traveling and attempting to live in all corners of the world. Her travels, paired with her acute attention to detail and observations of everyday life, provide numerous accounts and emotions which serve as artistic inspiration. Her work exists as free and intuitive compositions made up of large blocks of neutral color and texture contrasted by unexpected pops of saturated color. Inspired by moments spent in nature and the exploration of interpersonal boundaries - desperately holding onto some, while releasing others. Through her work she examines the contrast between the gain and release of control that comes with the choice to live with vulnerable, raw intention.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Erin Mahorney: I moved into this space in December of last year. I had left Procter &Gamble in August of that year and it took me about six months to realize that I needed a [studio] space. When I left the job I created three soft goals for myself: get back into painting, travel, and volunteer (specifically teach English abroad). After a couple of months of traveling I decided to move into a studio space the week I returned home. So we ended up shopping around and then I decided on About Space in Northside.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
EM: I tried to be very conservative with investments and space usage because I didn’t really know where I was going with all of this [points around studio] and so I used to just sit on the floor and just look around. I slowly started buying things: I purchased and put together that easel. . . I found that lovely chair at a thrift store and just felt like I had to have it. It's coming together.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, building etc) influenced your work in any way?
EM: I mean, this complex of studios is pretty huge, but I get the vibe that I'm one of the first people to get in here during the day; most tenants come in the late afternoon or evening. That works for me, though. I’m pretty introverted, I like my time to myself, so it works. It’s nice to have space to breathe and be on my own. There’s great light. It’s nice being in Northside. I like it here, but I don’t wander around too much when I’m down here. I draw on a lot of experiences that I gain when I’m traveling, so I guess my influences don’t really develop from the area that I'm a resident of.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out?
EM: It’s been an evolution over the last year. I feel like I’m still trying to figure out that day to day schedule that works for me. Currently it's more structured because I work part-time during weekday mornings. Like I mentioned, I’m usually here in the early afternoon to late afternoon and sometimes evenings. When I do head out of here I usually just got home; we have an apartment in Over-the-Rhine, walk the dogs, and try to have a bit of a life outside of here.
F-D: So what do your studio based activities look like? Do you have a process once you’re here or do you just go with the flow?
EM: When I first moved in, it had been some time since I painted regularly and so I think I reverted back to working with the figure because that was comfortable for me. I’m not sure at what point, but at some point, I just began working in a more abstract way. I almost feel afraid to think about it too much right now, I kind of just want to let the process work the answer out.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
EM: I think I’ve always been more attracted to expressive mark making and the story of the ‘stroke’, especially in respect to abstract expressionism. I’ve been really inspired, as of late, by nature. I have a few images that I always keep around, they’re images from hikes, travel, other time spent outdoors. In particular, I pull from moments where I get the opportunity to be introspective, calm, and thus peaceful. On the other side of the coin, I maintain this other concept that has been floating around in my head regarding identity and vulnerability. I think a lot of my work is beginning to morph into that space where I am really putting myself out there and being honest about what I’m making. It’s a bit scary—it puts you in a vulnerable position.
F-D: So how do you think those ideas play into the work that you are making right now, in particular, the paintings where your decisively painting over self-portraits?
EM: Since returning from traveling I'm thinking a lot about where I am in my life; I think everything is autobiographical right now. It is very intuitive and I think that I am, on a daily basis, perhaps struggling with my identity as an artist. I walked away from a very structured world and now I’m trying to establish myself in the. . . anti-that.
F-D: So, when you left your previous job, did you leave feeling like you had established some roots within the art community in town and thus you felt like you would be “o.k.” to dive into this or did you just decide to jump in?
EM: Well, my entire community had evolved around work. The last time I really had a connection with an artistic community of any kind was back in college; so I’ve gone out of my way to make new connections: go to openings, meeting with creative groups, stuff like that.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
EM: Strictly acrylic, acrylic mediums, and canvas. Mixed media on paper. . . some charcoal. Pretty basic stuff.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
EM: I’m pretty good at maintaining a sketchbook. I usually start out with that. I’m constantly looking at a variety of images online: fashion, travel, a ton of other artists. . . I try to only work on two commissions a month, so that I don’t get overwhelmed with the work load.
F-D: Do you work with narratives, plot, or any progressing themes?
EM: Nothing specific, I guess. I do think about those concepts that I mentioned earlier eluding to my identity and how we project ourselves out into the world.
F-D: Where do you pull your colors from?
EM: Gosh, that’s such a big question. I mean, as you look around you’ll see a lot of blush-y colors and other pinks. I try to maintain a balance between high contrast and neutral color palettes. A little bit ago, I was working and just kind of kept returning to this image of Yellowstone that I had fresh in my mind, I began working with all of those blushes and ochres and sand colors— it’s funny how a memory will jog specific color palettes.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your making?
EM: Oh yea. 100%. Whether it’s an emotion that I’m trying to work through or a memory or an experience. All of it ends up being pulled from personal experience. I think that once I got settled in here [in the studio] I began noticing that I became really introspective and internally motivated. A lot of my sketching and planning started revolving around my memories and experiences. It brought up a lot of experiences from my childhood that I definitely think still affect my sense of identity and who I find myself to be today. Honestly, I think my desire to explore the idea of boundaries and ‘control’ stems from some of those experiences from my youth.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
EM: Being outdoors is such a motivator for me. Every time we go on a hiking trip or camp for a period of time I get the opportunity to be tranquil, calm, and introspective. Once I return I get to reflect on those feelings and it’s incredibly motivating. On the opposite end of the spectrum; I wouldn’t say I’m an expert by any means, but I do follow fashion and trends so that's inevitably a motivator. How my boyfriend and I choose to live our life has an affect, I'm sure. I think it's important to live a minimal lifestyle, whilst being careful to live purposefully.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
EM: It makes a world of a difference. It provided me the opportunity to relax into making again. A year ago, if you had told me that I would now be making these loose, abstract pieces; I wouldn’t have believed you. I think the space sort of provided me that freedom.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
EM: Not particularly. I don’t really feel the need at this point to declare myself a part of anything specifically. If anything, I define most of my work as abstract expressionism. I also enjoy being part of the maker / crafts movement that is sort of popular right now.
F-D: Do you have any artists that your looking at right now?
EM: Not in particular, I have my ongoing list that I have saved on my phone. I don’t think there are any specific artists that I feel really pulled toward right now.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
EM: Well, there is my favorite quote by my girl, Virginia Woolf, “I am rooted but I flow". I think it gives me peace in that I don’t feel like I have to be constantly one thing, I can evolve and change over time. It gives me flexibility. There’s also a lot of pep talk in here on a day to day basis. There are those days where I find myself in here at 1 o’clock on a Tuesday and I kind of stop and say, “What am I doing right now? How am I doing this?”. . . but I just keep trying to work through it and tell myself that I’ve got this and I’m legitimate 'cause that’s all I can really do.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
EM: I’d like to say that I always respond with, “I’m an artist”. I’ve gotten a lot more confident at pronouncing it without any other baggage around it. But. . . a lot of times I do find myself compelled to, sort of, over-explain my story of how I became an artist as a way to defend it. I have to sandwich it in between all of the other things that I’m doing. I’m trying to let that fall by the wayside.
F-D: That's extremely relatable and understandable. What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
EM: It’s funny, when I first got back into this, my goal was to just get back into the practice of painting and to put it somewhere— anywhere. I didn’t care. I think, for right now, just getting it out there is risk enough.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
EM: I think creating challenges and being honest with yourself are really important. I need to remind myself all of the time to make work for me and then the audience will find you. Having patience with yourself is also important.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
EM: I am wrapping up commissioned pieces for the year which is always a joy. I also dived quite deeply into my latest series "The Stories We Tell Ourselves" and am really happy with how it is evolving. I feel like this is the closest I've come yet to my "style" and artistic voice. I'm also creating a new website (that will launch any day now) so that my work can be more easily shopped online.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
EM: I created reproductions of my art for the first time this month - prints and greeting cards. So my show schedule at the moment is very art & craft fair heavy. I'll be at the Crafty Supermarket at Music Hall on December 2nd and the O.F.F. Market at the 20th Century Theatre on December 3rd. And then two pop-up events at Madewell and Pottery Barn in the Kenwood Town Centre, December 9th and 10th, respectively. I want my art to be accessible and enjoyed by many, so prints and cards are my current avenue to broaden my reach. In addition, I have original work on display at both GalleryOTR and Art Underground.