The Rapidian

Local artist feature from UICA: Erin Schaenzer

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Erin Schaenzer moved to Grand Rapids, MI five years ago to attend Kendall College of Art and Design and graduated with a BFA in Printmaking. Schaenzer’s poetic works are influenced by identity and relationships.
Artist, Erin Schaenzer

Artist, Erin Schaenzer /Courtesy of UICA

Underwriting support from:
Art by Erin Schaenzer

Art by Erin Schaenzer /Courtesy of UICA

Art by Erin Schaenzer

Art by Erin Schaenzer /Courtesy of UICA

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts invites you to learn more about West Michigan's creative workforce, neighboring cultural organizations, and about ways to engage with Grand Rapids' art-scene with interviews and guest features highlighting our local and regional community members. Visit for monthly interviews.

How would you describe your work?

My work is very personal and most of the content within it comes from my relationships with others, myself, and with everything else. Identity is one of the concepts I’ve been dealing with the most within the last year or so. Almost every one of my pieces consists of photo transfer, collage, and drawing. I have been called a formalist quite a bit. It’s therapeutic for me to create something that has balance because I’m a very anxious person. I pay heavy attention to forms and their relationship to one another, and color. Light and dark is huge. I find moments throughout the day and I take photos of them to use. I never really know what things mean until I’m finished with them.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

I’m hugely influenced by other people’s energies and moods. I deal with mental illness, which skews a lot of how I view the world, and it’s always changing. I have a few solid friendships that consist of sitting and talking for like, four hours about everything. We sort of just hash out all these things that we think about and deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s art, relationships, being a good person, or just our place in the world. I don’t know where I’d be mentally without those conversations. I also have to give a lot of credit to my printmaking professors at Kendall College of Art and Design. Throughout my five years at KCAD, they really made me challenge myself as an artist and as a thinker and wrap my head around some big concepts when it comes to being true to myself and to my work.

Do you have a piece of work that stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

The first collage that I ever did, “Found”, which now lives in Egypt actually, was so important to me when I made it. When I sat and looked at it after I was done with it, I was so proud, and had one of those breakthrough moments. It’s super simple and has three or four layers and some stitching, but conceptually sort of threw me into this year-long period where I discussed my first (and current) serious long-term relationship and who I was within it at the time. I am super interested in the dynamics within both romantic and platonic relationships, and how they change and grow over time. That was a turning point for sure.

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

Right now, I’m just trying to keep myself busy and expand and change my ideas a little bit. I had a hard time adjusting after graduation trying to continue motivating myself to make work semi-frequently. Recently, I have been applying to some print shows both nationally and internationally, and some in GR as well. I am in a group show in October at Bend Gallery, a new space on the corner of Division and Weston, run by Madison May and Gina Masterson. It is called “More Than Anything," and it’s centered on the complexities of relationships. My piece consists of one hundred or so 3x3 inch monotype prints dipped in wax and sewn together. That will be displayed on the wall, and a video will be projected onto it. The concept comes from personal experience, and the lengths we go to keep romantic relationships going, specifically unhealthy ones.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

There’s this stigma that surrounds all jobs within the arts whether it be fine art, music, writing, theater, or even culinary. This idea that you can’t be as successful as someone who goes into business or whatever else non-creative people do that will make them a decent wage. The thing to understand about those who pursue a career in the arts is that we know.

The coolest thing about being in the arts is that it’s entirely personal, and we all (mostly) do it because we love it. It’s a part of us. So much so that we’ve decided to make it our whole lives. I just wish that could be respected rather than constantly judged and questioned about whether or not we’re making money, because it’s not about that. Making money off of your work is pretty cool, but it’s definitely not the most important thing.

How can communities, specifically Grand Rapids, better support the creative workforce?

Be more open-minded. Hire us. The artists that I know are some of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life. Let us into your spaces. Make room for artists of color and trans artists, and not just to feel good about yourself. I would like to see less exclusivity within the creative community, and see art spaces bring in artists from all different backgrounds and concepts. Local is good, but not local is good too. Challenge dated worldviews. We live in West Michigan, after all.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I love solitude and relaxation. I am living alone for the first time in my life and I’m learning a lot about myself, both good and bad. I enjoy trying to improve my life and thinking about all the Big Questions. Music helps with everything. My friends and my boyfriend are extremely important to me and inspire me to be better in all aspects. Their success and happiness is a really powerful force that helps me through the hard days. I enjoy traveling when I can afford it. I watch a ton of TV and I’m not necessarily proud of that…but I tend to talk about it a lot.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

A professor of mine once said to me “you are the only person who can make your work”. It helped me sort of get past this headspace of constantly comparing myself to others in the art world, and has helped me be happy (for the most part) with what I produce. It’s really freeing. Once you let go of that feeling of how badly you want to make work like other people, everything makes more sense.

Looking for more?

Learn more about the artist here.

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