October 26, 2007

Museum and Gallery Listings
By Holland Cotter

T. R. ERICSSON: ‘AS IF LIFE ISN’T HARD ENOUGH THEY HAVE TO TEAR OUT YOUR FLOWERS’ The gallery’s news release identifies T. R. Ericsson as a portrait painter, and this New York debut show is indeed a portrait, and to some extent a self-portrait, but one made from objects and texts. The subject is the artist’s mother, an alcoholic who apparently died by suicide, and whose presence he summons through photographs, letters, transcribed voice-mail messages, containers of cocktail mix and a soundtrack of moody music. Mr. Ericsson’s basic means are not new, but he’s a subtle storyteller, and they really work, both in the show and in the self-published magazine “Thirst,” which accompanies it. Heidi Cho Gallery, 522 West 23rd Street, (212) 255-6783, heidichogallery.com, through Nov. 3.















By Victoria Hofmo

The first thing I noticed upon entering artist T.R. Ericsson’s first solo show,held at the Chelsea-located Heidi Cho Gallery, were the silver stars haphazardly and playfully scattered throughout the cement floor. You remember - the kind you were rewarded with when you had done a good job in school. The exhibit reminded me of two juxtaposed feelings with its hues of marble white, clear glass, sepia and small bits of granite black. At first glance it is clean and fresh as a brisk winter’s day. After looking closer it becomes a little antiseptic and medicinal, like a hospital.

Life story
I look, from left to right, around the gallery and realize that this is someone’s life story, the artist - his family - at first I am not sure. There are photos of someone’s home and pictures of a child, hospital cardiograms, letters, a crenellated ashtray from the 50s, which on closer inspection has written in such tiny lovely script “Ah Misery” and towards the end a white on white portrait – perhaps the fading memory of someone loved depicted as a shadow, a gradually disappearing memory. I later find out from Raphael DiazCasas, the director of this gallery and curator of this show, that this is a portrait of his mother whose image comes from the exture made by marble dust, a material used in a few of his other pieces.

A story about the mother
The first piece I see is the most striking and beautiful. It is the shape of a walking stick or a beautiful icicle, but has brown liquid running through its center – a substance to be injected from this large needle. It is composed of glass and a brown liquid, materials that are mirrored in the last piece. That one is separated from this otherwise linear group and stands on a pedestal in the center of the room. It is a glass urn - the kind one keeps a loved-ones remains in, but instead of ashes it is filled with that same brown substance. I realize that this is a story about the artist’s mother. But, I have not unlocked the meaning of the brown substance so I ask DiazCasas. “It is Long Island ice tea. His mother was an alcoholic and this was her drink of choice.” [There is a clue to this in the second piece, which is a text that speaks about Long Island ice teas, but I did not connect it to this brown liquid.] DiazCasas brings my attention to three small photographs, which were in an alcove that I did not realize was part of the show. He explains that the brownness of one image was made by filling a box with cigarette smoke to replicate the image. Ericsson’s mother was a smoker. It is next to an image of an old 45 record “Angel of the Morning,” his mother’s favorite song. In fact, there is usually music playing in the gallery because the artist felt it would evoke a special mood.

Stars in letters
When asked why he choose to feature this artist, DiazCasa quickly answers, “He’s a good artist; a new conceptual artist. When I saw him for the first time I was impressed with what he has to say. His work represents in many ways how people live in this country – ordinary – everyday life, regular life. It is a voice that needs to be put out and I don’t see it often in our world. The stars on the floor were his choice. When he moved from his home, his mother used to send him stars in her letters. She pushed him to study painting and be an artist.” The artist, T.R. Ericsson, is originally from Ohio and came to study at the Art Students’ League in 1991. He divides his time between both places. According to the gallery’s press release, his hometown of Ohio is a “fertile Midwestern state –known for the
diversity of its artists and writers [and] continues to provide a birthing ground for his imagination.” Ericsson also founded an art serial magazine in 2001, Thirst, and is very much influenced by philosopher Søren Kirkegaard’s. DiazCasa adds, “By urging viewers toward the non-comfort zone, in which they are forced to question the magnitude of personal emptiness, he speaks for those who have no memorable histories, and gives them a voice.” In this case, it gives not only his mother a voice, but also becomes very biographical, which allows the artist to explore his complex feelings towards her. She was a positive life force who pushed him to reach the stars, but also a negative force that made him feel guilty when he left for New York. (Her husband, his father had abandoned her, so Ericsson’s leaving added to herloneliness and his sense of responsibility.)

Painstakingly tender testament
This show is a memorial on many levels. The first, the most obvious one is that these eighteen carefully constructed pieces gathered in this place are a tribute to her. The second is displayed through his choice of forms, such as the urn or the panels etched with his mother’s vital signs at the time of her death, as well as his utilization of materials, like marble dust and black granite. Here he plays to those traditional forms and materials in which we memorialize those we hold in high esteem. But, in other pieces comprised of nontraditional materials, instead of being left to rest in stone and granite, a onedimensional heroic ending. His mother is left to rest in glass, exposed. She is reveled to us in all her complexities, warts and brilliance. This is extremely and powerfully felt in his first piece, the large glass icicle shape, which I later find out was molded from his mother’s cane, as well as the glass urn where she is laid to rest at the end of
this show. Here he creates a new kind of monument, one that transforms simple, painfully personal items into art - enduring, beautiful magnificent, leaving her and us with a lovingly crafted, painstakingly tender testament to the individual with whom most of us have our most complex relationship- our mother’s.