It began when my mom died in 2003. I was 30. Her death was a suicide. That’s where it started. Or you could say further back than that with our life together, or still further back to her life before I was born and so on, there’s no way to punctuate things like this with a definitive beginning or end. It all moves in so many different directions.
- TR Ericsson
Centred around the artist's long-running project "Crackle and Drag", TR Ericsson's solo presentation at ARCO Madrid creates an intricate web of relationships between the works on view. Tracing his mother's youth, with an emphasis on her tumultuous relationship with her father, her bitter struggles with alcohol and tobacco, as well as the artist's own relationship with her and with her memory, these works build a beautiful narrative of a sensitive, loving woman and her struggles to overcome the darker sides of life.
Conceived along the idea that "every element should be a little poem, freighted with subtle meaning that is in connection with the story's purpose," (George Saunders, "A Swim in a Pond in the Rain"), each work is both independent and part of a larger whole. This 'whole' is hard to define. While it is undoubtably the artist's family history, his past and his present, it is also the history of the American dream and its fallicies, universal notions of grief and mourning, and of each individual's fight to overcome life's challenges.
All My Love Always No Matter What2021, DIGITAL OFFSET THE BOX SET CONTAINS SEVEN VOLUMES HOUSED IN A PLEXI SLIPCASE OVERALL BOX
All My Love Always No Matter What is a seven-volume book collection of letters written by the artist’s mother, Sue, to her only son, Tom (TR Ericsson). It took nearly twenty years and numerous other projects for the artist to finally gather this material into a singular work. In 2004, the year after his mother’s death, fragments of her letters first appeared in a self-published magazine and as part of an installation at a non-profit art center in the Bronx. Her letters have been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums as sculptures, paintings and works on paper; her recorded voice narrates a feature length film the artist made in 2015. What emerges in this now complete collection of letters is a vibrant but at times tortured individual who, though struggling with a variety of abuses and addictions, was still capable of great wit and humor and love: a portrait far more revealing than the image of an unknowable face.
Volume 1 begins with a card written to her father describing a wedding party she hosted for her sister-in-law and the special “Royal Daulton” plates she set out for it. By volume 4 while still only in her fifties, she writes her last letter to her son and daughter-in-law, a brief note that ends humorously but with an ominous overtone, “Treat yourselves, it’s all going to be gone one way or another.” The seven volumes, mostly in her own words, chart a slow descent from her early years as a young wife and new mother to a lonely isolated figure with less and less to live for. But more than charting her degradation, the letters bring us closer to their author, revealing a touching intimacy between mother and son that both expresses the love the work is really about and empowers its title. The artist has painstakingly assembled each book with a loving thoroughness that avoids interpretation or explanation; instead it’s his mother's voice alone that is driving the narrative. In volumes 1 - 5 all the remaining typed or handwritten texts had to be digitally reproduced in rigorous detail to the exact scale of the original correspondence and then organized into a chronological timeline. Volumes 6 and 7 have audio and video components embedded in cut-out pages inside the books along with a complete transcription of each recording. A profuse and disorderly jumble of original audio recordings, including countless answering machine messages, had to be observantly arranged into the same dated chronology as the letters. This slow and methodical process led the artist to many surprising discoveries, including his mother’s final recorded message to him just days before her death.
Life is War, 2015Graphite, resin and funerary ash on dyed muslin, 61 x 50.8 cm, 24 x 20 in
Taken from a page of his mother's cookbook, quotes about the trials of life co-exist with cocktail recipes. Rather than using the traditional process with ink, Ericsson uses a mixture of graphite, resin and funerary ash on dyed muslin. In this way, he spreads the essence of his mother in homes and museums accross the world, in places Susan Robinson would only dream of traveling to. This page is also present in the artwork above, All My Love No Matter What.
Letter opener (with bullet casings), 2017Bronze, 22.9 x 4.4 cm, 9 x 1 3/4 in, Edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof
Cast from Ericsson's grandfather’s letter opener that he made during the war out of shell casings, the blade is imprinted with a typed fragment from a letter written to the artist by his mother. This letter, written on March 3, 1994, later became a work of its own, shown both in the film "Crackle and Drag" and at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.
You may not think of a letter opener when you see it. You might think of a knife. And then why is the typewriter text in relief on the blade? The obvious conclusion is that whatever is written there, is there to wound. It’s illegibility only heightens the obscure and troubling personal-ness of the work.
Letter (March 3, 1994), 2019Graphite, resin and funerary ash on muslin, 3 panels, 198.1 x 152.4 cm (each), 78 x 60 inches (each)
To read a letter from the past, however near or distant, a letter not written to you personally, becomes an experience of entering into another’s most intimate and private space. The intentions, what is written, can seem obscure and impossible to penetrate to an outsider, the narrative details don’t necessarily resonate, or they do, more often the communication is stripped to it’s essentials, hopelessly dull, humorous, or in this instance emotionally charged.
Letters are/were typically formal. Intimate but often formal. There’s no formality here.
From the first line, “I was half asleep when you called and so did not properly explain Grandpa’s spaz attack.”
From there the letter descends into a scathing attack, a mother writing her distant son about day to day life with a father who both loved and abused her all their lives.
“I’d get those letters at the 92nd Street Y where I lived then, I knew, like this one, they could be wired to explode. I’d read them quickly and then stuff them in a drawer and try to forget about it. Somehow I saved them all. And after she died and even now, I read them all the time, I didn’t know it then, real time, present time can be deceptive. But what she sent to me was nothing more or less than herself, all the shards of her broken up all over, to think of it now it's a rare gift. In my late teens I was lecturing her in the car one day, and she got quiet then said, “Kid, you don’t get me.” She was right. I’m trying now. Better late than never, better to try then not bother at all, better to know I didn’t know, don't know, than assume I did or do.” - TR Ericsson
This work was commissioned by SCAD Museum of Art and exhibited in the show "Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom", 2019
I LOVE YOU TOTALLY ALL THE TIME AND ALWAYS WILL2018, Bronze with steel armatures, 243.8 x 121.9 x 10.2 cm (each), 96 x 48 x 4 in (each)
A continuation of the monumental letters, I LOVE YOU TOTALLY ALL THE TIME AND ALWAYS WILL transforms a letter from 1991 into a monumental outdoor sculpture.
Columbine, 2017Graphite, resin and funerary ash on light gray muslin, 91.4 x 61 cm, 36 x 24 in
While the above letter is written by the artist's mother, reflecting the fraught and at times abusive relationship she had with her father, this work is penned by the artist's grandfather five years later. Contrary to the tension his mother implies about their relationship, the letter is caring, lamenting the brutality of mankind and how long it had been since their last reunion. Written shortly before his stroke, the letter exemplifies the difficulties of navigating the world, both in our most intimate relationships and in the context of larger brutality.
Kirtland Road, 2014Graphite resin and funerary ash on panel
The image is of Ericsson's mother's home, which is mentioned in the letter from March 3, 1994. While bittersweet for his mother, who associated it with her father and their tense relationship, it was beloved to the artist. The image shown here is a part of the front facade of the home, which opens onto a lawn. While memory confirms that this lawn was covered in grass and vegation, here it is made of funerary ash, imbibing the work with Sue's softness and caring.
I Want Your Body
TR Ericsson: "The first edition was made in 2012, before I was doing the works in ashes. As I got deeper into the Crackle & Drag work this earlier work took on a deeper significance. So I returned to it in 2017 and made more of these. It was a button/pin of my grandfathers, a gag he had pinned over his desk, I wanted to experiment with bronze and making this small thing was a good start. The process is the original lost wax process where the wax positive is melted out and replaced with the bronze. The process and the language tilted toward the narratives embedded in the Crackle & Drag story and this little object became a more somber and darker token or totem."
This work was revisited once again, this time in polycarbonate, a material which is significant for the artist as “a plasticized world, alcohol/vodka, an empty bottle, a nothingness, a yearning for what is no longer there. I wanted to create this enlarged sign-like work so it could hang in an exhibition space like the loud voice it was in my head while I made the rest of the work. This simple phrase anchored everything, held it all together, a longing, a lament, a cheap come on.” The edition is the same size and edition number as Richard Hamilton's “Epiphany" (1964).
California Sky (1963), 2020-2021Vodka, resin and metallic silkscreen ink on cradled gessoed panel, 152.4 x 213.4 cm, 60 x 84 in
California Sky (1963) attests to a mastery of TR Ericsson's technique of mixing alcohol in with the silkscreen process, thus eating away at the image and creating unexpected alterations. The artist first started working with this process in 2019, obscuring photographs from his family's archive with cocktail ingredients, showing how memories and experiences can be eaten away with substance abuse.
The piece is composed of three enlarged and variously cropped snapshots of the artist’s mother. “The photographs were taken all at once, the photographer, likely my grandfather, moved in closer for each shot.” The pigment is a mix of resin, vodka and a silver metallic silkscreen ink. At certain angles the images are lost in the glare and become abstracted into spilt forms of silver light. “My mother drank. It’s still hard for me to say that. I never thought of her as an alcoholic, but she was. She drank different things, but the vodka was memorable. You can’t make an image with vodka, but you can use it to destroy the image.”
Cocktail PaintingsA selection of works
Nicotine is poison, but so is looking back. One of the first bodies of work TR Ericsson made after his mother passed was a series of images created with the brand of cigarettes she chain smoked towards the end of her life. The artist recalls wanting to make a portrait of his mother through the materials that were close to her. He began with cigarettes and photographs creating a haunting series on nostalgia, poison and mortality.
For these works, Ericsson uses a silkscreen process, essentially an intensified version of the process through which his mother's white ceiling became stained yellow in the final years of her life. Digital photographs are burned into silkscreens. Subsequently the images are recreated in nicotine as ashtrays filled with smoldering cigarettes are placed beneath the screens, slowly creating pictorial stains while destroying the screen. The process requires anywhere from fifteen to six hundred cigarettes to create a single image. The results of this innovative conceptual appropriation of craft, are fragile, haunting and beautiful images that convey the “live, dream, die,” loop that turns throughout the artist’s larger body of work.
Punk, 2008Nicotine on Paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, 20 x 16 inNicotine on Paper
50.8 x 40.6 cm
20 x 16 in
Baby Picture (Tom), 2009Nicotine on paper, 30.5 x 22.9 cm, 12 x 9 inNicotine on paper
30.5 x 22.9 cm
12 x 9 in
TR Ericsson: Introductions