A sad Clown?

Erin Hael visited by Ryan Turley

I met Erin Hael back in November of 2012.  She had been brought on to assist with an art-handling/installing gig I was involved in.  I won’t go into any details other than to say we became fast friends and before we knew it she was moving to NYC and out of Minnesota!

I have been following her work ever since and was excited to visit with her at her current studio in Bushwick/Williamsburg (or whatever they call it) and see what she has been up to lately.

Erin Hael at her Studio in Brooklyn, NY

Erin Hael at her Studio in Brooklyn, NY

Upon entering her studio I was struck with the pungent odor of bananas.  This was the not so good smell of fruit that has gone off.  I immediately remembered her mentioning that she had been wanting to work on a new performance piece that involved her dancing classical ballet choreography on a stage of fresh banana peels.  The conversation went from there.

“Banana Republic” Performance still, 2015

“Banana Republic” Performance still, 2015

Erin is part performance artist, part painter and part all around funny gal.  You only have to spend a few minutes with her to experience her humor and boisterous, contagious laughter.  The girl likes to laugh, and she IS funny.

Her more performative work can involve her getting hit in the face with a cream pie, having a rug pulled out from beneath her or practicing to hock a loogie (spitting).   

These performances are recorded and result in the form of video pieces.  They are amusing with a definite darker side to them.  There is a tension in all of her work that grapples with amusing her audience at her own expense.   My mind usually conjures a type of modern day sad clown when I experience a lot of her work.  A modern day Pagliacci perhaps?

This type of physical comedy or as she informed me is sometimes referred to as pratfalls.  Buster Keaton, Benny Hill, Lucille Ball all come up in the conversation as influences she gleans from.

“Practice Makes Perfect” 2015, Performance for video

“Practice Makes Perfect” 2015, Performance for video

I ask Erin where this desire comes from to make people laugh or why is there such a large humor element to much of her work and she pinpoints some of it back to her move to New York from Minnesota.  She describes feeling a bit lacklustre with “The Big Apple.”  There may have been some depression, stress and anxiety about moving to this city and she said that she coped with a lot of that by watching “funny” or “prank” videos online.  This turned into “Jackass” type self-inflicted pain vids to make people laugh into videos of people “puking.”

“A Myriad of Successes” 2014, Media Collage

“A Myriad of Successes” 2014, Media Collage

“Videos of people puking helped me laugh, laugh until the point of crying, you know a real belly laugh” Erin stated.  She went on to say that she was interested in how vulnerable we were when we were in a state of being sick/puking.  Lets remember she is not laughing at real people being sick, these are for the most part actors and comedians.  There is a comedy of the grotesque at work somewhere here.  She embraced this investigation and went on to make numerous and quite stunning paintings about these images.  

  “Catch up II” 2014, Mixed media, collage, acrylic

  “Catch up II” 2014, Mixed media, collage, acrylic

There is also the common thread throughout her work that involves an action and a reaction.  A push and a pull but then she throws in a fall or blunder, perhaps involving a banana peel.  

Whether Erin is dancing on a stage of slippery yellow banana peels or having the rug literally pulled out beneath her, we should all keep an eye on where she will land next.  

“Pulling the Rug Out” 2015, Performance for Video

“Pulling the Rug Out” 2015, Performance for Video

To see more of Erin’s work please visit her website.