Erika Stearly is convinced that contemporary realities are complex enough to sustain multiple approaches to painting. As a result, she integrates representational image-making with abstraction’s emphasis on materiality and mark-making in her interior paintings to depict the beautiful clutter of domestic items. Often named using the street addresses of the residences depicted, the imagery in her paintings balance an impulse to faithfully render the objects against the emphasis on the hand of the artist. The combination of abstraction and representation romanticizes these spaces in a way that invites the viewer to construct their own narrative of the scene.
A lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, Stearly is comfortable navigating both its urban centers and rural pockets. Evidence of how various regions of the commonwealth were shaped by geopolitics, the rise and fall of industries, and natural disasters can be found in a community’s architecture. Stearly makes paintings of the spaces where people live, which increasingly include large single family homes that have been awkwardly subdivided to create additional rental units for young people. She also finds inspiration in vintage home remodeling magazines, the IKEA catalog, photos taken in friends' houses, searching sublet rental ads on Craigslist, and most recently though Instagram. Stearly has developed a mixed media technique that allows her to combine the characteristics of watercolor and acrylic paint. Delicate shapes can quickly be sketched in or large blocks of color can be refined with watercolor pencils. The heavier bodied acrylic paint can fully cover existing passages and retains its brushstrokes. Using both types of paint together produces a more nuanced range of painterly effects.
Her paintings, which are both fictional and biographical, have been featured in dozens of juried and invitational exhibitions around the country in recent years, including recent exhibitions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. She is the recipient of several artist grants, most recently through the Puffin Foundation and the Black Rock Arts Foundation for her work with Take a Painting, an interactive painting installation. Her studio practice has been supported through Fellowships and Residencies at Wilson College, Kutztown University, and Penn State University, where she taught undergraduate painting. Recent group exhibitions have included Bound Unbound IV at the University of South Dakota, The New Now through Inliquid in Philadelphia, and freshstART through the McCall Family Foundation in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Kutztwon University, where she completed her BFA in 2009 and a graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her MFA in 2014.
View images from Stearly's 2019 BoxHeart Exhibition, Dwell.