Art imitates life and vice versa.
For Erin Armstrong, this is her reality. With an exciting road ahead as one of Toronto’s hottest new artists, we sat down with Erin to find out how she got started, what inspires her, and what she sees happening next.
How did you get started in doing what you’re doing now? What were the first steps in your career to get you to where you are?
I always wanted to be an artist as a kid. I grew up with an artist mom. When I graduated from university, I thought, ‘what am I going to do with this history degree I just got?’, when I really wanted to get into art. I said I’m just going to go for it, I applied to The Artist Project in Toronto, got a booth, had no idea what I was doing. I sold out in the first night, signed to a gallery on Sunday, and I was flying to New York the following week, and then it just snowballed from there.
What was the time lapse between when you got the booth to when you were flying to New York?
Four weeks. I saw an advertisement in Canadian Arts Magazine for The Artist Project. I hadn’t heard of it before. I emailed them because it said to apply online. I had maybe three paintings because I never thought it was a viable career, but it was something that I had been doing my whole life. They said ‘This never happens, but we have somebody who just bailed out. Usually, people apply a year in advance, and the judges saw your stuff. Do you want to come down last minute? You have to be ready in two weeks,” and I was like “Yeah, I’m ready. I’ve got a bunch of stuff.” My mom had an art studio, and I kicked her out of it. When I got there, I set up the booth. The opening night around 10,000 people came. By the second night, I had sold out of everything. I think it was better I was blind to it. I probably would have freaked out if I had realized what I was doing.
Going into that, you said you had three paintings, you kicked your mom out of her studio to make more. Had you had any training before that?
Growing up, literally every day I would claim that I had a sore throat from junior kindergarten up until I was in grade 7, even though I totally didn’t. My mom admits now that she knew. I would go out into her studio and paint all day with her. She went to U of T for fine art, so I feel like I got my education from my mom, faking sick and being at home all the time painting and drawing with her. When I graduated university, I took a continuing studies course at OCAD in studio art. Other than that, it was trial and error, and figuring out what works or doesn’t. No formal MFA here.
Looking back, are there moments that clearly stand out as defining in your life now that you know you’re doing this and you’ve found your groove? Are there moments that trace the dots?
Growing up painting in my mom’s studio, taking art class in high school and all the art teachers used to say, ‘this is what you should be doing,’ and me seconding guessing asking who becomes an artist? Who can successfully do that? Looking back, those are the flashing light moments that say this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Taking that road and trying other careers, like working at a fashion magazine and working at an advertising agency, though they weren’t what I wanted to do. Those are so important because they remind me how far I have come as an artist. I appreciate it so much more.
What type of Notable are you? Are you a creator, an entrepreneur, or a professional?
I feel like I would classify myself as an entrepreneur who is in the arts. There’s a lot more that goes into what I do than just finger painting. There’s a lot of business that goes on behind it, and I run everything. I don’t have an assistant or anything, but I would say I’m an entrepreneurial person.
What is something you have done recently that ties entrepreneurialism into your art?
As much as I love fine art and painting and exhibiting, which is 90% of what I do, I also have collaborated recently in the last year in a half with some big brands. I just had a collaboration with Nike for their pop up in Toronto. I did a mural for them. I was approached by Portia de Rossi who is launching her new art line called General Public Art. I was one of the first artists that she asked to collaborate. I’ve done a collaboration with Anthropologie for prints.
What part of the entrepreneurial side do you love about your job?
I have never been the kind of person to work a 9 to 5. I tried and was horrible at them. I was always better at making my own schedule and have a bunch of things going on in my head. I never thought people would want to pay to see it, but somehow, miraculously they do. Being able to have big brands come to me and ask me to make something and give me free rein to do it but have it done by a specific date, it’s the best of both worlds. I get to control what I want to do, when I want to do it and how, but I also have the business side of negotiating with these big companies and having that relationship, which is fun too. I genuinely enjoy the business side of doing these projects.
What would you consider your proudest moment to date?
When I was 25, a big goal of mine was to sign with a really respected, important gallery. That is a pretty large moment for an artist because it means you are taken seriously. On my 26th birthday, I was contacted and signed with one of the largest galleries in Canada, Bau-Xi, who I am with now.
What is the worst mistake you have ever made?
Oh my god, I’ve got a lot! When I was young and had just gotten into the art world, a gallery took advantage of the fact that I was young and didn’t know how to navigate the world of art quite as well. That was a negative experience, but I learned from it.
Where can we learn more about you and connect with you?
You can check out my work on my website at www.erinarmstrongart.com, and on Instagram @erinaart. You can check out my galleries in Vancouver and Toronto at Bau-Xi, in Seattle at Foster White Gallery and in Switzerland at Air Project Gallery.
Right now, Erin is working on her solo show that is happening at the beginning of March at Bau-Xi. She is also working on a solo show starting May 2nd in Geneva, Switzerland at Air Project Gallery. Her collaboration with Portia de Rossi launched a month ago on General Public Art.