Arts Interview: Speaking Up

Erin Galvez Explores The Meaning Of The Materials In It's Hard To Say

Maggie Grimason
4 min read
Speaking Up
Erin Galvez explores materials and reuse in her show at AC2 Gallery (Erin Galvez)
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It’s hard to pin down all the materials used in Erin Galvez’ upcoming show at AC2 Gallery (301 Mountain NE), transmuted as they are into sculptural pieces. The show, largely created through the course of the last semester of Galvez’ MFA program at UNM, closely examines art materials—what they are traditionally, what they can be and all the meaning embedded into them. These experimental pieces are made entirely of scavenged, thrifted and otherwise reclaimed materials. The show, It’s Hard to Say, opened on Saturday, May 5. In between final installations, Galvez shared the history and ideas behind these works.

Alibi: Are you an avid thrifter and scavenger, or elsewise, what precipitated that element of this show?

Galvez: I do enjoy thrifting and I rely on it for much of my domestic life and the majority of my wardrobe. Scavenging materials is always a given, though I have been slow to work them into my practice. My Grandmother Rose took me to the first garage sale that I remember. Growing up in a household where consumerism was a barometer of success, I was ecstatic when I found a brand name sweater for $1. I still remember the green paper tag with the handwritten price dangling from a string.

Why is using reclaimed materials important to you?

Over the last decade I’ve begun to question my use of resources and materials for the making of art objects. The use of traditional painting materials—paints and canvas—at times feels somehow wrong and luxurious. Even the use of water to clean out my brushes I sometimes question. … We are surrounded in our lives with beautiful things that we take for granted—mass marketed and consumed materials that we accept as normal things. When I find materials that I like—vintage bed sheets screaming with a ’70s grotesque floral print, or the color palette and design elements of the early ’80s, I’m taken to places of memory that give me a good feeling. … I am completely fascinated by the nostalgia in that—it gives me a sense of gratefulness for being alive to have had all these experiences.

How do these materials speak to other themes you are working with in the show?

The most general theme of the show is materiality and thusly, the inherent qualities of those materials. I’m studying painting and drawing at UNM and I am fascinated with movements such as [the Outliers] and American Vanguard and Arte Povera. I think that stems from being a self-taught painter [and]… my exposure to art and culture was minimal growing up. The nature of the materials is essential to drive the work. … Over the course of creating this work I pondered many things. I’m collecting discarded and donated goods, deconstructing them to their most basic forms, and making them into art objects. Some of these pieces deal with consumerism and regionalism. … I’m also thinking about painting and expanding painting to something the viewer interacts with, unlike a traditional painting hung on a wall.

What are these materials, and how do you explore their inherent materiality?

I’ve used fabrics, paint, plastic foils, plastic bags, pompoms, helium balloons and other assorted found materials. With the fabric pieces I am considering draping and for painting on fabric, I am utilizing gravity, [as well as] specific qualities of painting on fabric and layering it. The foils have a specific tensile strength that keeps them almost buoyant against the wall as the metaphorical bodies I imagine them as. They move and "breathe" as air moves around the room and reflect light from one another and from other objects so they will change according to where the viewer is standing.

Did you learn anything in the process of constructing these?

I learned so much! … Moving into sculptural works, and works that I had to create on-site, is an entirely different level of consideration. Moving into [more] dimensionality is quite challenging. I took huge risks in this show—this is all experimental work and it has opened up my thinking in a new way.
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