vəˈräɡō/: a woman of strength or spirit; a female warrior.
Seeing through a Different Lens

Eric Allshouse: Portrait Through the Lens of an Artist, Activist and Teacher

KE:  Eric, I met you what seems a lifetime ago at the  Bernstein Bookstore in Lawrence, MA. Those were challenging and creative times. A lot of us were really giving the middle finger to the establishment. How has political injustice and ecological issues inspired your artwork?

EA: I have created many paintings and drawings relating to political and or ecological issues, both individually and with my mural painting with students at the high school over the past six years. I express my voice through my artwork and hope to inspire others who see the work to see the world in a new way, through my lens. I have always been drawn towards narrative artwork, and so I tend to enjoy creating and looking at artwork that has an element of storytelling and symbolism, where there is more than meets the eye. Over the years. I have created artwork about issues relating to Anonymous, Global Warming, Endangered Animals, Slavery, War, Pollution, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and other work that is simple portraiture, but many of people illustrated or painted are famous leaders promoting the causes of justice, personal freedom, and civil rights for all.

This drawing was dedicated to my Grandmother Dixie Bell, it is her in the background on the horse. It was based on photo by Edward Curtis called "Wishham Girl".
This drawing was dedicated to my Grandmother Dixie Bell, it is her in the background on the horse. It was based on photo by Edward Curtis called “Wishham Girl”.

KE: Is there a particular artist who confirmed for you that you wanted to make art? Was there a pivotal moment/experience or a teacher who inspired you to draw or did you just know that this is what you wanted to do?

EA: Well I always loved looking at art at museums my Mom would take me to. I also love comics, anime and cartoons. I seem to have always been making art ever since I can remember, and my Mom even pushed/encouraged me into drawing classes at various times throughout my childhood, but I enjoyed it and played along. I wish now I had taken my talents more seriously then, but what the hell, I was a kid. Anyways, I love Dali the most and always found inspiration in my master. Too many to list, but some of my favorite artists are: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Kenny Sharf, M.C. Escher, Gustav Klimt, Phil Kutno, Alexis Rockman, and on it goes. It was freshman year in college, after literally taking no art classes in high school, that I truly decided to focus on making art and improving my skills and developing my talent. I  pursued a major in computer animation for one year then switched to a major in sculpture, with much delight. I did have one particular drawing teacher that really actually taught you how to draw through demonstration and modeling of his skill while our whole class drew the nude models. His name was Jack Coughlin. He is a talented illustrator and he sold prints of his drawings/watercolors of famous people at a local gallery come to think of it. And then I tried to sell my first poster, The Dream, senior year in college at the River Rave at Great Woods in 1996.  I made a quick $300 walking around with the print for about an hour with my high school buddies. The easy profits and positive feedback from the people confirmed that I was on to something here, and that is when I met Che, while he was selling his first poster, The Sun and Moon. Weird, huh? We’re still friends….still inspiring each other.

"The Dream" by Eric Allshouse
“The Dream” by Eric Allshouse

KE: Some folks have remarked that your sketches are so detailed they often look like photographic impressions. For instance, your amazing drawing of Johnny Cash looks so realistic, I had to do a double-take. How long would you say you spend on a drawing like that? Do you have an outline in your head of what its going to look like or does the image evolve as you go?

EA: The Johnny Cash took about 100 days, working a couple hours each day, so about 200 hours. With most portraits I work from a photo and use the grid technique to get the accuracy and shading correct. With most of the other work I try to get way more free and loose creatively to offset the strict nature of copying a person’s features through a portrait, which is fun and makes for good artistic training, but would be boring if that is all that I ever did.

 

“Johnny Cash” by Eric Allshouse

KE: What’s the typical soundtrack for you when you’re drawing? What do you like to listen to in order to get in a creative zone?

EA: Usually I make my newest, ink portrait art while sitting on couch because they are small enough and don’t have paint that smells and requires a separate space to work. So I may have the television on while I am drawing some celebrity musician, writer, world leader, etc. Or if I am listening to music, I typically will listen to Pandora and set my stations on shuffle. My band/stations are The Doors, Bob Marley, Faith No More, Handsome Boy Modeling School, RJD2, Beastie Boys, Air, Roots, April March, Portishead.  I do love music but I’m lazy when it comes to exploring and finding new bands and seeing live music performances all the time…that’s where friends with similar tastes come in handy.

KE: You use a lot of mixed media in your artwork. For instance, your portraits of Adele and Halle Berry are comprised of ink and glitter. When did you decide to use different materials in your artwork and what are your favorite materials to use?
EA: I began to mix make-up with the inks when my wife’s best friend Tonya came over to visit and unloaded a shoe-box full of make-up products like eye shadows, mascara, and glittery pigments. I decided it would be cool to combine the ink with some of the ingredients, and voila, I was onto a new adventure. I used the mixed ink for the first time on the Marilyn Monroe portrait and was satisfied with the glittery, translucent effect of the mixture of ink and make-up. From there I have purchased a variety of different sized glitters, gold and silver leaf, and other ink mediums. For the collection of Monochromatic Portraits I enjoy exploring new ways to create the likeness of a person, or use different materials in new combinations. The variety and exploration keeps the work more fresh and interesting and exciting to work on.

“Marilyn Monroe” by Eric Allshouse

If I was only allowed to work in one medium or material it would be oil paint on canvas. You are able to mix any color you can imagine and have the skill to create, which is not easy be any measure. The gloss and sheen of the surface remains alive for hundreds of years, and the colors do not fade over time. They are relatively inexpensive and are easily transportable, and if you make a mistake you can paint it over again. Oil painting hold the highest respect amongst artists and art collectors alike; they are widely regarded as the finest forms of two-dimensional artwork. I have not created many oil paintings so far and the challenge to tackle a new medium with unlimited potential is exciting. The oil paintings I have finished were increasingly successful and leave me wanting to make many more.

KE: Your sculpture work is highly informed by Egyptian culture? Does Egyptian history have a special relevance for you? What cultures inspire you?

EA: Yes the Egyptian table was imagined during a time when I was heavy into sculpture. I had recently finished my undergraduate major at UMass-Amherst as a BFA in sculpture and I was living in Northampton, where I used an empty room in the apartment as a clay studio; huge dusty mess. I had procured the stone top from an old farm house in Bolton, MA, had it polished smooth and designed four ‘legs’ to hold up the stone surface.

 

“Egyptian Table” by Eric Allshouse 1998, terra cotta and granite, 4’x5’x2′

I don’t remember why the theme was Egyptian but I found many reference images to guide my sculpting of Anubis, King Tut, and Nefertiti. Looking back I see many flaws in the realism and detail work, but that is the life of the artist; it is never enough, so you go and make another work. I do realize that I have far more skill creating work in two dimensions rather than three, although I love sculpture. I truly take to drawing and aim to establish myself as a painter in the future.

 

“Liz Afire” by Eric Allshouse

KE:  It has been said that “art is the lie that tells the truth.” Do you feel that art has the ability to change the way people think? Can art change the world? I know you are an Art Teacher in Lawrence, MA. In what ways have you seen art change the lives of the kids you teach?

EA: I do believe that art is the great first communicator. For thousands of years humans have used pictograms to communicate, record history, and speak to each other. Even during the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel mural was designed to teach church followers who could not read the Old Testament of the Bible (which was very common during those times, as only the elite or monks had the luxury of literacy.)

Radical art can show you a new point of view, and romantic art can pull at your heart strings. Historic art can teach and preserve events for all to remember. Art can change the world as music does. People see news photography every day that changes the way they see their world; most people alive today can remember the image of the naked, little girl with napalm burns crying during the Vietnam War. Once you see art, you are effected and sometimes you can be moved so powerfully it changes your point of view forever.

As an art teacher in Lawrence, I have seen a half a dozen students pursue art majors in college that I mentored as their drawing and painting coaches during their four years at high school. These students have expressed to me how important my coaching was and it makes me feel proud to have been a positive and inspiring influence to an art student. It is amazing watching these students grow in skill and challenge themselves to create newer and better work, one after another; usually competing with each other in close-knit groups of artist friends. The talented students generally cluster together pushing each other to higher heights. Even better than this is watching the other students who aren’t particularly gifted artists being guided and taught how to create realistic art by following specific steps and learning ‘how to see’.

All the work that comes with being a teacher is rewarded when you see the look in the eyes of a student when they finish a new work and they are truly happy and proud to say ‘I made that”.

 You can check out more of my Eric’s amazing artwork on his website or FB page.

About Kristen Demesilda

Kristen Demesilda

Writer and Photographer for Virago Magazine, Kristen grew up listening to vinyl and highlighting the dictionary. Her work has appeared in IrockJazz.com, The East Harlem Journal, Boston’s Culturehive, the Ithacan and other publications. Her love of music cannot be eclipsed by her love of words. She’s been coined the “Akira Kurosawa of Blogs” by such people as herself. An aspiring musician, she has a serious penchant for peach-flavored anything, multi-tasking, slow-paced thrillers and dreams of going back to South America, laying on the beach, and drinking from a coconut.

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