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Two Coats of Paint

Ideas and Influences: Erika Ranee

October 27, 2017

Erika Ranee, The People, 2016, in on paper, 12 x 12 inches.

Several years ago, Two Coats of Paint encountered Erika Ranee‘s paintings during an open studio event at the Marie Sharpe Walsh Foundation. Soaked with vibrant color, her large-scale abstractions were exuberant conglomerations of snippets culled from the overlooked details of everyday life. On the occasion of her “Zip-A-Dee-A,” a solo show earlier this year at the Mazmanian Gallery at Framingham State University, Two Coats invited Ranee to share ten ideas or influences that inform her recent work.

Erika Ranee, Everything, Everything, 2017, ink and crayon on paper, 12 x 9 inches.
 An illustration from Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.

1. Poisonous plants have piqued my interest lately. Dangerous Garden by David Stuart is a good place to start. It goes down the rabbit hole of pharmaceutical industries, the history of wars, and the rise and fall of empires–all attributed to specific plants. Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, by Albertus Seba has elegant and sometimes quirky illustrations that I revisit whenever I’m in a creative rut and need a distraction.


Lee Krasner, Palingenesis, 1971, oil on canvas, 82 x 134 inches.

2. I can’t get this painting out of my head. First spied it several years ago through a Chelsea gallery window and I have a Xerox copy holding pride of place on my studio wall. Lee KrasnerPalingenesis, 1971, oil on canvas, 82 x 134 inches.

Mark Twain on PBS

3. I’m always finding snippets of text to throw into the mix of my paintings. Often you can’t even decipher that it’s a written word by the time I’ve finished adding layers of medium. Even so, it provides the backbone and often the jumping-off point for my work. This was a Mark Twain documentary and I took a snapshot from the TV screen. I like to zoom in on the text once I’ve settled on it. At this point it becomes more about form than content – but it’s important that the genesis/DNA of the content remains.

Street painting
Graffiti in Italy

4. I also collect markings. I photograph whatever stands out. If you live in a city it’s not hard to find fantastic naturally occurring paintings everywhere you turn – and you can steal the moves without worrying about appropriating another artist’s work! I hit the jackpot while visiting Italy last summer. The old buildings yielded many stories in their beautiful decay.

Earnest Griset, The Two Lizards, illustration in Aesop’s Fables.

5. Since my work seems to be heading in the direction of decay and regeneration – basically a cycle of life, I’ve been feeling sentimental about favorite myths, fables and stories of my youth. There’s a reading list stack that I’ve been revisiting: The Odyssey by Homer, White Fang by Jack London and Aesop’s Fables. I used to read Aesop’s Fables every night as a kid; many of them are so harsh and twisted, but I loved them – and still do. And Earnest Griset’s detailed illustrations evoke the right note of gravitas and foreboding for each lesson.

Aboriginal Art: Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming

6. A few years ago I started working on paper and it’s an entirely different discipline. I make the works at home with the hum of a British murder mystery or black-and-white movie playing on the TV in the background. I enter the zone and I’m surprised how meditative repetitive mark-making can be. I’ve never been an obsessive tiny marks person – I love the expansiveness of a large-scale canvas and a big brush, but on paper I’m equally as free, just operating in an entirely different gear. I’ve been looking at Aboriginal art and imagining the stories being told through the actions of each mark made by the painters. I wish more of their names were known. I couldn�’t find the name of this painter.

A still from Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 classic, Woman in the Dunes

7. For me black-and-white movies are the antidote to a toxic state of mind. I grew up watching them, so they’re in my DNA. I recently discovered “Woman in the Dunes,” directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964. I don’t think it’s any accident that the protagonist is an entomologist.

Starling bird murmurations
Mayfly setae hairs

8. Speaking of obsessive mark making, I’m inspired by the aesthetic of animal swarms. The annual starling bird murmurations above Rome, Italy and the deep-sea baitballs are mesmerizing and it’s a look I’m trying to achieve in my new work. I tend to put finishing touches on some of the images with fine thin hairs like that of insect (*see mayfly) and plant setae – or the sticky dotted tentacles of carnivorous plants.

A quilt made by women in Gee’s Bend

9. I think some of the best art is made in a communal setting by way of storytelling and expression. The phenomenal women quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have created some of the strongest abstract compositions I’ve ever laid eyes on. No color theory rhetoric there – just from the gut and a tradition passed down through generations.

A microscopic view inside the body.

10. My work is very intuitive and I’ve noticed the theme of exploring universes often in the very small and microscopic realm. I think paint naturally lends itself to an extension of bodily fluids. I’ve been channeling the beating of my heart as I make dots, or imagine a highway of corpuscles/blood cells pumping throughout the arteries as I execute my bigger paint and shellac pours. Somehow these various natural worlds are all interchanging and relating.

Erika Ranee, I’m the One That Gets You, 2017, acrylic, shellac, gouache and spray paint on canvas, 20 x 16 inches.