Though Brooklyn-based artist Eric Cahan’s works are invariably pristine and alluring, his process is notably less glamorous. Driven by an unwavering commitment to perfection, executing his vision is no simple task. But Cahan did not elect to be an artist because he thought it was going to be easy. “If you want to do something easy, boil an egg,” he says. Characterized by a glossy aesthetic that revels in vibrant color, Cahan’s photographs, resin sculptures and, most recently, moving images on LED screens, have a calming effect – his work is like visual Valium. But it is the process, laden with failure and struggle and the awful stench of liquid resin, which defines Cahan as an artist. He describes it by citing the age-old adage: “There is no joy without pain.” But it is only Cahan himself that must bare the brunt of pain for pleasure – the viewer experiences only pure, unadulterated joy.
First, an annoying question: how would you describe your “aesthetic” to someone who has never seen your work and does not have access to Google (an alien, basically)?
My aesthetic is about light and reduction.
At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
In my thirties I realized I couldn’t do things for other people anymore. I wasn’t employable because I have to do my own thing, so I gave up commercial photography and went for it.
When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
It is time to step away when the piece turns out as I imagined. Getting a piece to perfection – to the vision I have – is a long process but it’s a process I love. There are so many variables, so many parts that go wrong. It takes learning every step of the way, failing enough times until you learn how to make the changes that get you to the vision.
In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
In every way.
When it comes to your practice, are you good at delegating tasks?
You have to surround yourself with the best. From the best framers (Laumont), down to the highest quality materials, I only work with the best and don’t spare any expense.
Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
I am most inspired in the mornings, I get visions in meditation or when I’m working out, listening to music – when I’m in the zone. And in the summer.
Are you deadline-oriented?
Yes, if I know a show is coming up it’s a good motivator but it always seems to come together in the last two weeks, at the last minute.
What does your studio or work environment look or feel like?
I just moved to the Navy Yards. My studio is messy – resin is nasty stuff to work with. It smells like two robots fucking and there are molds for my sculptures and color samples all over the place.
Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
There are a few people who I show my work to in-process, one being Mike Vorrasi – he works with Cindy Sherman and Ryan McGinley. He is the color expert and fine art printer. But I usually wait to show work when it’s finished. I don’t really hear people’s opinions.
How important is failure to your artistic process?
Failure is essential; I would be worried if it was too easy. The process for me is working out failures. It’s like the saying there is no joy without pain. Pieces that don’t work are what you learn from and grow from to get you to where you’re happy.
To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
There is always a plan – I always have a vision of what I’m hoping to achieve. It takes plenty of trails, hence the failure being the process.
Can you recall the first piece of art you ever made?
I must have been four or five in art class when we were enameling copper pieces. I cut a bat shape out of my copper and the glaze I chose created this dark, crushing blue- I was fascinated by the texture, the feel of it. I also have a book of my drawings from a very young age – it is mainly UFOs, pirates and animals.
What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
Leo Koening’s advice, “Just keep going no matter what.”
How do you handle criticism?
Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
It depends on what series of works, but it is typically process based. I don’t just go with the flow.
If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
Take a few days off, do something else.
In what ways has your practice changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
It’s always changing. I am currently working in a new medium, which means different materials and learning a whole new process to achieve the vision. The process is the art for me; I switch it up to keep interested and excited.
Can your recall a definitive moment or turning point in your career – perhaps a specific show or the realization of a new method or process?
I can remember watching a surfboard shaper in his studio and noticing the excess resin being collected in a container. When dried this resin happened to make a beautiful amber color that I held up to the light and decided I could change the way we see light by creating my own resin filters in various colors.
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