Erin John Sullivan is an artist on a mission. Gleaning satisfaction purely from creating beautiful compositions or from provoking inconsequential thought within members of his audience is not sufficient. He struggles constantly with the desire to motivate his audience to take action; action against a government and a society that has rested on its laurels within this country for far too long. This perpetual need to make a difference is what ultimately brings an idiosyncracy to his creations.
I sat down with the artist at an independently owned coffee shop near his home in Tarpon Springs, FL to discuss the current state of his work and his message. His pieces are large-scale; they are constructed predominantly on slabs of pre-fabricated wood panel in industrial grade oil enamel. He prefers this manner of production because, as he says, "I'm making big work, so I don't spend four hours preparing paint. I'd rather just get right into it."
He continues, "I always work with a specific goal in mind. I don't like working abstractly. When I make my work it's a way of personally keeping it together. I may have an ulterior motive or a target audience for what I'm doing but in terms of actually making the work it's almost like a way of keeping me from going crazy."
In addition to its distinctly personal nature, his work is inherently relevant to the current state of American life, and therefore is naturally urgent in its expression. A recent theme of his has been circular, based off of a veteran nuclear blast map of the Tampa Bay area. Says Erin John, "It's an older map and who knows where it's targeted now; I don't really care. That's why I like what I do so much. I'm working with this motif which references impending doom for the area we live in, yet it's a highly personal experience when I'm making the work. I love that juxtaposition."
Erin John has yet to show his large scale paintings to the Tampa Bay public, having previously participated in both solo and group shows in Los Angeles and Madison, WI exclusively. His present work has begun moving in a more aggressive, political direction, one that directly attacks our tendency as a nation to turn on, tune in, and tune out.
Erin John believes that "we're in a cultural amnesia in a way. We've forgotten our past, we have no idea or concern for where we're going in the future, and we're not really in touch with the present. And I find that really horrific."
"It's so easy to bitch about not being as frontal as I want and just not taking the risk."
Here's hoping the risk he takes inspires us to take some risks of our own, both creatively and socially.