“I don’t stop creating.”
Ericka Dammen is an artist. She makes art for herself and thrills when others find their own understanding of it.
“Every day,” she said, “if it’s painting, if it’s playing the guitar — I don’t stop. If I stop creating, I will just stop.”
There was a time when she stopped making art.
“I started painting when I was a kid,” Dammen said. “I quit for a long time. Then in about 2014, a lot of life changes were happening. I didn’t have an outlet. I wasn’t in school anymore. I was in between jobs, and I was frustrated. I had one canvas a friend had given me. She gave me that and a bag of paints and said, ‘Do something.’ The canvas wasn’t very big, and I ended up painting a really awesome medicine wheel. I sent it to my mom and she loved it and told me to paint some more.
“So, I went to my friend’s house and said, ‘Let’s just make art.’ We put on some music and that was it. I was hooked. I was back in it. The first couple of paintings were very concrete and structured. Then I threw it all out and said, ‘I want to make a mess. I want to get my hands in the paint and feel everything that’s going on underneath the surface of this.’ It’s very cathartic.”
Music and painting go very much hand in glove for Dammen.
“I’ve always painted to music,” she said. “I have playlists for my art. I have to have some kind of audio. I have a studio space in my apartment and I have my paintings on the wall. That’s where I practice my guitar. It’s good.”
She learned the guitar almost by accident.
“Last year, I was trying to sing with a friend while she accompanied me on guitar,” Dammen said. “That didn’t work out very well, so she taught me the chords, and I practiced them. She showed me the A-minor, an F, and I think it was an E. She told me to play them over and over again until it didn’t sound like I was skipping. Three weeks later, I said, ‘I think I can play these.’ She said, ‘OK, what other songs do you want to learn?” A week later, a friend gave me a guitar and I’ve been playing four hours a day ever since. I don’t learn anything traditionally.”
Dammen values her greatest disappointments as much as she does her finest creations.
“Embracing making bad art is the biggest challenge,” she said. “You’ve got to make bad art. If you view yourself as a vessel, or a channel, even better. You can’t have good art if you have bad art in the way. So if you don’t get your crappy art out of the way, you will never have room for good art. But you’ve gotta keep doing it. Even when you get good, there will be times when you still make bad art.”
Her work is visceral.
“I’m an abstract expressionist,” Dammen said. “I like to do really big pieces with lots of color, lots of texture and lots of movement. I use a lot of paint. I make a big mess. The largest painting I’ve ever done is 3 feet by 4 feet. It’s red and black and white and every time I look at it, I see different stuff in it. I like to show it to people and ask what they see. That’s the best part of doing art shows. I love when people connect with a painting.”
Sometimes its effect on others surprises her.
“I was working through something,” she said. “I’d painted over that canvas over and over. I made this great background. I really liked the colors and the mix. It sat there and stared at me in my studio for six months. Then I got really emotional one night, and I got my white paint and a paintbrush. I almost never use paint brushes. I usually use my hands and other implements. I wrote, ‘I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it’ in big letters. I posted it on Facebook and said, ‘I’m going through something right now.’ Someone saw it and bought it.”
Dammen wants to encourage anyone who feels the need to create to do so, fearlessly.
“If you don’t like what you painted, you can paint over it,” she said. “There are no rules in the arts. If you want to learn rules, there are art schools, but ask yourself who you’re painting for. Show your stuff to other people. Get input from people who don’t know what you’re doing.”
Dammen will be embracing making art for the rest of her days. Some will be horrible. Some will inspire depths of feeling that cannot yet be imagined. Her creative courage leaves room for all of it.