A few weeks ago, I received an email from a young woman who’d just moved to Ypsi from Brooklyn, after a brief layover in Ann Arbor. She was looking for studio space, and thought, I guess, that I might be able to help. I couldn’t. But, one thing led to another, and I ended up persuading her to participate in our Ypsilanti Immigration Interview project… Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Erika Hess to the neighborhood.
MARK: So, tell us about yourself.
ERIKA: I’m originally from Ohio. After I graduated from college I went to Boston for grad school to study painting. I worked with some fantastic artists, made huge oil paintings and when I graduated didn’t know where to go or what to do so I decided to move to New York. I ended up living in Brooklyn for two years where I worked as an artist assistant for some amazing artists. (I still can’t believe how lucky I was to work with the women I did.) Life was pretty great except I was broke and stressed out about making ends meet. I felt like I needed a change so I decided to leave the city for the summer to go to an artist residency outside Asheville, North Carolina to work on a comic book. It was literally in the middle of nowhere on an organic farm. Due to a chain of events involving rivers that flow backwards, a greyhound bus, a funeral, and painting a mural, I was offered a job at University of Michigan in the School of Art & Design. They were looking for someone to travel around the country to talk to students about their portfolios. Perfect. As you can probably tell, travel and location is something really important to me. There is a book called, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. It addresses the idea of travel and wandering, and it’s a great read. So, yeah, traveling, art, community, dancing, comic books/books, these are the things that are important to me. I’m also attempting to be a bicyclist and I make a mean pasta salad.
MARK: What can you tell me about your artwork, other than the fact that it tends to be huge and oily?
ERIKA: My work is very involved in color and investigating space. Right now I’m interested in how shapes overlap to create a shallow space like what you see when you have multiple windows open in your computer. My paintings changed a lot when I moved to Michigan. I think a large part of that is because I started making sketches in photoshop. Before I had always made collages or small gouache studies. Being on the road half the year it is easier to work on an ipad rather than having a watercolor set with you.
MARK: Did the residency in North Carolina yield a publicly available comic? If so, how might we see it? And what’s it about?
ERIKA: Yes it did. I wanted to make a comic book to teach people how they could easily grow their own food in recycled containers. Organic produce is expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it so I wrote and illustrated “Contain This: Adventures in Urban Container Gardening”. It basically outlines how anyone can easily start growing their own food on a rooftop, window sill, anywhere you can fit a planter. I was awarded a grant from FEASTMass, an art funding project based in Boston, that helped me pay for the printing of the comic and to travel to a few cities to disperse it at farmers markets. You can find images of the comic on my website, and, if you would like one, you can email me.
MARK: So, why Ypsilanti?
ERIKA: I literally drove a moving truck from New York straight to Ann Arbor to an apartment I had only seen in really bad jpgs. I had only been to Ann Arbor once for the job interview and that was a fly in and out scenario. I didn’t know Ypsilanti existed. I started my job and a guy I worked with invited me out to Corner Brewery so I went to meet him. Well, he gave me the wrong date and ended up being busy, so I sat at the bar in a state where I didn’t know anyone and drank a beer. I’m glad the guy didn’t make it bc it gave me a chance to take it all in. The bartender was really nice, the people seemed cool, there were board games and all I could think is, “I should be living here and not in Ann Arbor!!” There is a vibe in Ypsi I love. The people, the community, the local businesses, the grit, I feel at home. I ended up officially moving to Ypsi in August and am here to stay.
MARK: Can we trust you?
ERIKA: I don’t know if you believe in horoscopes but I kind of do. I’m a Leo, so I’m one of those people that if you are my friend I will go through hell or high water for you. Basically, if we were in “The Warriors,” I would make sure you made it to home base, and even give you my sweet bandanna.
MARK: If it’s not asking too much, could you please draw a picture of me wearing this sweet bandanna? I’ve having a hard time visualizing it, having not read The Warriors. (My daughter and I were going to begin reading the cat version of The Warriors together this winter, but got sidetracked by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)
MARK: Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed a guy by the name of Rob Hess, who intends to peddle his homemade ice cream from a bike in Ypsi. You wouldn’t happen to be related, would you?
ERIKA: I heard about that guy! Great idea, and I can’t wait to order some ice cream. Unfortunately we are not related, so I guess I won’t get the family discount.
MARK: I wonder if there’s a market for a business that sells pasta salad from the back of a bike.
ERIKA: Maybe Rob and I can go in on a picnic business. We’ll show up with ice cream and pasta salad, and we’ll bbq for you.
MARK: Do you have any questions that my audience might be able to help you with? Is there perhaps something that you’ve encountered in Ypsi that just doesn’t make sense to you, like how low the Tap Room’s door handle is?
ERIKA: My coworker told me the Tap Room door handle story! I love it! Someone needs to make a comic about that. Questions… hmmm, yeah, so are there Roller Derby events in Ypsi? I saw a mural by ACE, and went to a fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, but is there an Ypsi team?
MARK: I think the Dimes rented that space. I’m not sure if they still do. I know people in Ypsi who do roller derby, but I’m terrible when it comes to keeping track of team names. I have, however, gone to see matches at the park behind Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor. I believe it may be the closest venue. As for local teams, I know there’s a team called The Ypsilanti Vigilantes, but I’m not sure if folks consider them our “home” team, as I believe that Ypsi women skate for a number of different teams. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will respond, though… In the meantime, if you could bring one thing from Brooklyn to Ypsi, what would it be, and why?
ERIKA: Maybe Brooklyn Bowl, it was a bar and bowling alley that had great live shows. So basically if you added a bowling alley to Corner Brewery. Why? Because who doesn’t love beer, bowling and music?
MARK: You first introduced yourself to me a few weeks ago, when you were looking for studio space in Ypsi… Were you able to find something?
ERIKA: Unfortunately nothing has turned up yet. So maybe that is what I would bring from Brooklyn, lots of studio space.
MARK: It’s beautiful outside today, isn’t it?
ERIKA: Yes, I am loving this weather! I think I’m going to go hang out at Riverside Park with some pasta salad.
[note: For more Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews, just click here.]