why people draw: erika iris simmons

Hello again!

Hope today finds you well and dry! Yikes! It has been raining non-stop here in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I don’t think most areas in this state can handle any more water. Thom and I get to escape all this rain a bit tomorrow…we’re off for a week-long vacation. We’re really looking forward to it!

This past Saturday, we went to see The Weepies—one of our favorite groups. It was a great acoustic concert…both of their voices lend themselves so well to that! Come to think of it, The Weepies have used animation for their videos a couple of times (keeping it relevant to The Hamster Wheel, and so it sounds less like me rambling on about my weekend!). Here’s the one for “Be My Thrill.” It’s such a fun song! This video was illustrated by Lauren Briere and animated by Paul Keefer.

Now back to today…we’ve got a brand new “why peope draw” interview, which always makes me happy to be able to post! I’m discovering that I constantly have my little “why people draw” antennas up nowadays so that whenever I see drawing anywhere, I think, “hmm…whoever made this would be a great interview!” This is the case with our guest today. Having moved to a new house earlier this year, our realtors send us a magazine called American Lifestyle. Thom (who also wears his “why people draw” antenna with pride! Or if not with pride, as a wonderful sign of support!) pointed out to me an article titled “Ordinary Materials. Extraordinary Art. Ghost in the Machine” in that magazine about Erika Iris Simmon’s cassette tape drawings. Her work immediately got my attention. When you see the images, you’ll see why.

Erika studied Russian and Literature, and is fascinated by how people understand the meaning of things, by history, by science and by psychology. All this seems to explain her interest in materials and objects that have a story within themselves—be it because of their content or their use.  Apart from that conceptual side to her work, I also really like that she physically handles and manipulates the line—whether it is audiotape, string or sheet music.

I am so grateful to Erika for how receptive she was to doing this interview when I approached her. Thank you Erika for your time and your interest in contributing to the “why people draw” series!


Here she is (drum, drum, drum) Erika Iris Simmons in her own words and images. Make sure to look closely, because it’s hard to believe she can make images come to life with the materials she uses!

HW: What is your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?

EIS: I never really thought of myself as much of an artist, but I started drawing in a little sketchbook when I was about 16. I would mostly just try to copy photographs of people or draw what I saw in the world.

HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?

EIS: The more art I make, the more I realize that drawing (or any art) allows you to interpret the world through your own filter—sometimes being able to subtly express what words can’t.

mozart's serenade no. 10, sheet music (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: In your artwork you’ve used recycled & donated audio cassette tape, 8 & 16 mm film, text and images from books, even baseballs. What is it about a particular material that makes you want to work with it?

EIS: I don’t like working with anything that requires more than scissors and glue. I enjoy delicate textures and details. Also the medium has to have some character that is maintained even after it’s broken apart.

Audrey graceful

audrey graceful, recycled 8mm film on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: What is it about the portrait that continues to interest you, and that continues to be so important in your work?

EIS: I enjoy making portraits because it fascinates me that we can see a face at all in a pile of tape. I’m starting to venture out into other subjects now, though.

bob dylan, cassette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

john lennon, casette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: If you could a write a recipe for your artwork, what would the ingredient list read like?

EIS: Take something old but interesting. Break it open and look inside. Bring the most beautiful memory out.

beethoven, sheet music (courtesy erika iris simmons)

Beethoven: Cutting out the music

cutting out the music for the beethoven piece (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: Who are 2 contemporary artists whose work you enjoy? Why?

EIS: I love Ken Knowlton and Vik Muniz—if I had never seen their art, I never would have ever tried to make my own.

HW: How did you arrive at cutting and reconstructing (and no addition of paint or pigment) as prominent elements in your process and of your work?

EIS: I was inspired by the idea of recursion, where an idea is nested in itself. The idea worked like this: there is data on the cassette tape. Pulling out the data and arranging it adds more meaning because we recognize the singer’s face in the art, but maybe you also hear the song in your head while you look, so your own data is responding to what you see…

in progress: a tribute to benoit mandelbrot's fractual geometry of nature (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

in progress: hokusai's "the great wave off kanagawa” for the tribute to benoit mandelbrot (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

in progress: a tribute to benoit mandelbrot (photo courtesy erika iris simmons)

HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running (what gets you itching to draw or create)?

EIS: When I’ve had a hard day—nothing better than chopping and gluing at my desk.

jimmy hendrix, cassette tape on canvas (courtesy erika iris simmons)

Thank you again Erika! You sure give help open up the possibilities of what drawing can be…and where line is waiting to be found!

Erica’s IRI5 site

Erica’s IRI5 blog

Other links:

Erika on Flickr
Erika on Twitter
Erika’s Etsy Shop
CNN: Bruno Mars’ video inspiration recycles trash into treasure (December 14, 2010)
Bruno Mars’ video inspired by Erika’s artwork
American Lifestyle Magazine “Ordinary Materials. Extraordinary Art. Ghost in the Machine” (July/August 2011)
Woman’sDay: 11 Cassette and Film Tape Art Works (January 14, 2010)
Erika’s portrait of baseball player Fernando Valenzuela on creativityfuse.com

Please remember that any use of materials on this website, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of wacky shorts creations, is strictly prohibited. Thanks!

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