When the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream presented itself, local artist Mary Anne Erickson grabbed it – not only to satisfy her soul and “fill the creative well,” as Julia Cameron suggests, but also to make connections with women in the subcontinent of India. “Impressions of India: Surrender to the Journey” is a collection of photographs that she took there: ethereal snapshots of the people and their country.
“I thought they would be cool printed on fabric, like canvas,” Erickson says. “An artist friend, Norm Magnusson, told me that I had to print them on Indian fabric: Dupion silk and cotton; it gave the whole thing a context. I worked closely with master printer Stephen Kerner to create the final prints, which range in size from 30 by 40 inches to eight feet wide. Stephen did a number of proofs for me, and some of the prints just called out to be done on the silk with its nubs and rich texture. I manipulated the prints myself, and then Stephen tweaked around to enhance the colors, and the ink would end up being absorbed into the fabric. Each print is an individual work of art. I’m doing three prints of each of the images for this show.”
All taken with a pocket-sized Canon Powershot with a highly efficient 32X zoom, the pictures tell a powerful story. The explosive color is what first strikes a viewer: vibrant and multihued and ubiquitous; then, the gentle tone of people going about their business, which is often joyful, sometimes sobering. Sometimes, the contrast between beauty and abject poverty strikes you, although Erickson says that she avoided pointing her camera at the more “gritty” scenes of hardship and privation.
The artist was able to get up close when needed, but could never really disappear in the crowd, being a tall blonde white woman. “I think it’s like this in many foreign countries, where people have dark hair and are more dark-skinned: They have such a fascination for people who are light-skinned and have light hair. I was the only blonde in our group, and people just flocked to me. Everybody wanted to get their picture taken with me.” So much for remaining unobtrusive.
Engrossed in Hindu mythology early on, Erickson says that she “knows” that she has lived in India in another life. In this life, she is part of a worldwide initiative called Imagine, a program that helps lift women up from the tracks of dependence and slavery in which so many find themselves, and works to help them gain agency over themselves. She was invited by David Gershon and Gail Straub of the Empowerment Institute to participate with Imagine in bringing a woman from India to the US.
“We all got to know her. She’d founded a group in her community that, for 20 years, has been helping other women. What the Imagine work added to that was to have her learn how to have them ascertain what it is they want to create in their lives. We went to visit her, and we visited with some of the other women whom we had helped to facilitate. It was extraordinary to hear stories about how their lives had changed – something as simple as starting her own tailoring business, having their daughters go to school.”
A multifaceted artist who paints and writes, Erickson talks about her favorite place in India: Varanasi, on the Ganges River, where the atmospheric fog and smoke from funeral pyres mix to generate an otherworldly feeling. “We got in this boat at sunset, and a priest was with us to perform a ceremony. I was so in my own world, trying to be reverent and be present to all these millions of souls whose essential beingness had gone up in smoke here through the millennium.
“The show is for the most part photos of the landscape, and I personally love things that aren’t in sharp focus. I like the dreamy quality. For me, it’s not about the clarity of the image, but the mood of the image, what feeling the image evokes. I must have taken a thousand pictures, at least. Editing: That’s what a good artist or writer or photographer does, trying to figure out the most essentially powerful or unique piece.”
The Arts Society of Kingston (ASK) will exhibit the photographs this month. An opening reception for “Impressions of India” will be held this Saturday, July 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. The photographs will be exhibited until July 30. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. and by appointment. See the artist’s work at www.maryanneerickson.com.
“Impressions of India: Surrender to the Journey” opening reception, Saturday, July 2, 5-8 p.m., ASK, 97 Broadway, Kingston; (845) 338-0333, www.askforarts.org.