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Alumni, Lenora St. Blog

Alumni Stories: Exploring the Artistic Journey of Erik Geschke

Join us on a journey through the world of mixed-media artistry as we sit down with Erik Geschke, an esteemed alum of Cornish College of the Arts, whose creative prowess has left an indelible mark on both national and international stages. With a trailblazing career that has graced renowned galleries and exhibitions worldwide, Geschke’s artistic journey is a testament to his boundless imagination and relentless dedication to his craft. From the iconic halls of the Cornish College of the Arts to Paris, Geschke’s work has captivated audiences and garnered acclaim in prestigious publications such as Sculpture, New American Paintings, and The Seattle Times. Join us as we delve deeper into the mind of this extraordinary artist, exploring his formative years at Cornish, his evolution as a creator, and the profound impact of interdisciplinary exploration on his artistic journey.

Installation View, “Erik Geschke: Selected Works”, Alexander Gallery, Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon, 2024, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Photo Credit: Erik Geschke

Q: Where are you originally from and what drew you to Cornish? 

A: I grew up in Edmonds, Washington, which is north of Seattle. From a young age, I was really obsessed with art making; it was my focus. I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to attend an art college and that I wanted to focus on art. I became familiar with Cornish through hearing about it from mentors and research of my own. I also visited there. There was an open house, and I was impressed with the work I saw and the faculty and students I met. I decided to apply and was accepted. It seemed like the logical place for me to go because it was close by, and I was impressed with the program. I graduated in 1993 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Art. I went there straight out of high school and really liked the small, intimate atmosphere. It was perfect for who I was at the time. Being in a large, impersonal university was not for me.

The individuals that you go through a program with are very important to the experience you have as a student. If it aligns, you find a group of people that you really connect and bond with. I was very fortunate to go through the program with individuals that I’m still good friends with to this day. Many of them are artists in the Seattle area or still practicing outside the region. I was also really happy with the faculty, the adjunct instructors, and the visiting artists. It was exactly what I was seeking and provided experiences that I was unsuspecting of, as any good educational experience should. I look back at it with great fondness. 

Q: Did you know what discipline you wanted to focus on when you were admitted? How did that evolve during your time as a student? 

A: I was originally admitted for graphic design and my focus was going to be illustration. I registered a little late and as a result was directed to take some classes that were in the art department. These classes made me realize that I was primarily interested in making work for my own purposes and not that of a client. While I’m not opposed to it, I was not interested in using my art for advertising. I was more interested in doing it to explore my own conceptual and philosophical investigations.  

My  focus then was drawing and painting, however, I quickly realized that I was also interested in printmaking, which had processes that then led me to sculpture. Even though I’d always made physical things, I didn’t see them as my “art”. Drawing and painting are typically the most commonly introduced and readily available ways to work for a child artist. For the most part, I wasn’t exposed to sculpture, and more specifically, contemporary sculpture until studying at Cornish. 

Q: What is your current artistic practice, and how did your experiences at Cornish prepare you for your career as an artist?

A: My artistic practice is primarily composed of mixed-media sculpture, installation, and drawing. As I mentioned previously, I came from a drawing and painting background and arrived at being primarily focused on sculpture though a rather circuitous and unforeseen route. At Cornish, I became interested in printmaking. I became interested in the plates used in intaglio and the woodblock printmaking processes. It was the tactfulness of those materials, both the etching of copper plates and the carving of woodblocks, that I became interested in them as objects. I ultimately became more interested in these objects than the prints that came from them. This led me to take an introduction to the sculpture class, and I was intimidated at first by the facilities and all the processes that were involved. However, I took to it very quickly and was really drawn to the physicality of it. 

While at Cornish, I had some great instructors that inspired me and got me really interested in sculpture and working in mixed media. Art majors were required to have two disciplinary focuses and mine became sculpture and painting. I really dove head-first into sculpture and studied with some individuals who inspired me, particularly Amanda Fin and Ed Wicklander. They both introduced me to many different materials and processes. Wicklander, in particular, had a sense of material usage and craftsmanship that I was really interested in. I also had classmates who shared this similar interest and we fed off of each other. Another influential instructor was Barbara Noah, who encouraged a multidisciplinary approach as well as the utilization of humor. These experiences influence my work to this day. They also continue to influence me as an educator. I head the sculpture area in the Schnitzer School of Art + Art History + Design at Portland State University (PSU) in Portland, Oregon, where I am a tenured professor of art. I am currently in my seventeenth year at PSU. 

Q: Can you tell us about a favorite or standout memory from your time at Cornish? 

A: The experience that stands out in my mind was when I was in the fifth-year BFA program in Art, which you had to apply to at the end of your fourth year in order to gain admission into the program. We all had studios near each other, mine was in a house where another building now stands. It was located next door to Kerry Hall on Capitol Hill. The bonding with my peers at the time, the intensity, how we all pushed each other and had a healthy sense of competition among us, it was such a great culminating experience with our thesis exhibitions presented at the end. The cohort I was with, the work I created and how focused I was made it a very exciting time.

Installation View, “Erik Geschke: Selected Works”, Alexander Gallery, Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon, 2024, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Photo Credit: Erik Geschke

Q: Since graduating from Cornish, have you had a favorite or a standout project? 

A: I’ve had many projects and exhibitions, it’s difficult to identify just one. I’ll focus on what’s most recent. Most recently, it was having the opportunity to have the exhibition Erik Geschke: Selected Works, a survey exhibition, which featured sculptural work of mine that was created over a period of fifteen years. When I was first presented the opportunity to have an exhibition in the Alexander Gallery at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, OR, which is a large exhibition space, I knew I wanted to show some of my larger scale work that’s been made over a period of years and work that I’ve never seen together in one space. A lot of my work is fairly large scale and they are not something that you can just set up and look at all the time – you have to have the right situation and exhibition space for it. It was great to have the experience of seeing this work created over a number of years all together in one space. I selected this work from a number of different bodies of work. My work often references aspects of architecture, industrial design, and human physiology. While determining the work I would show in this exhibition, I selected pieces that reflected my interest in these.  

I was fortunate to have received positive press for this exhibition. David Slader’s feature on my work, A monumental snore (with a wink), was in Oregon ArtsWatch, one of the region’s most prominent forums for arts, cultural news, and criticism. Of the work featured in this fifteen-year survey exhibition, Slader focused on my piece, Missgeburt, delving into both the inspirations and concepts explored in the piece, with particular attention paid to how it was made. During the run of the exhibition, I was invited to be interviewed live on Everyday Northwest, a show on KOIN 6, which is a Portland, Oregon CBS affiliate. During the interview, I discussed the exhibition and its origins. It was great to be able to share my work with a wide audience of viewers who may not be introduced to it otherwise. I also gave an artist talk in the Alexander Gallery that was recorded for future viewing. The video of it can be found on the Clackamas Community College’s YouTube Channel.

Q: Did dipping your toes into all kinds of work as a student prepare you to continue creating all sorts of different work? 

A: Early on, I realized that I wanted to learn as many different processes as possible. My work is very technical, and I believe we all make work based upon the way that our brains individually are wired. I have a very specific way I want things to look. I have no allegiance to any one medium and choose the materials I use based on the concepts I want to explore. I do a lot of recreating recognizable objects, while oftentimes also altering their scale. While at Cornish, Ed Wicklander really stressed the importance of learning to work in many different processes and materials and using them accordingly in service of supporting your ideas. I knew once I had a large toolkit, so to speak, of many different ways to work, it could really free up my thinking. I knew that I could realize pretty much anything that my mind and imagination dreamed up. I’ve also done a lot of independent research and there are many processes that I’ve taught myself since. I have always had an ability to look at something and figure out how it’s made.

Q: What projects are you currently working on? 

A: I’m currently working on a body of work that’s composed of mixed-media sculpture and drawing. Drawing has always been an important part of my practice, although sometimes it can be used exclusively as a preparatory tool for my exhibited sculptural work. My recent bodies of work have been composed entirely of sculpture. With this body of work, I am returning to making drawings as standalone pieces. I’m working with graphite on paper and love the simplicity of the medium. It was the medium that I first gravitated toward as a child. Casting has always been a big part of my practice and the mixed media sculptures I’m currently working on continue to be made predominantly through this process with different materials. I am also continuing to depict recognizable, symbolic objects, and playing with scale. This work continues to explore my common themes of class, mortality, dystopia, and modernity. 

Q: If you could share one piece of advice for newly admitted students, what would it be? 

A: Experiment! Try a lot of things that you don’t feel comfortable with. As an educator, I often get students that come in with very specific ideas about what they want to do. I tell them the benefit of being in college is learning about things that you don’t know about. So, step outside your comfort zone and try things you have an interest in but might be a little hesitant or intimidated by. Try things that feel a bit uncomfortable. And, I’ll say too, if you’re really serious about building a career, it’s important as a student to see yourself as a professional, simultaneously to being a student. As an artist, you want to become the author and generator of your work as soon as possible. Become skilled at being a self-initiator and formulating your own ideas. Don’t wait for assignments, just do your work and make it continuously. Don’t depend upon prompts from a professor to fuel your production – don’t produce for just assignments. See yourself as an artist and not just a student! Visualize the professional career that you want to create and the steps it will take in order to do that. Find mentors and individuals who have careers you admire and examine how they got there. Look at their resumes and the steps they took to get to where they are. Be ambitious! Work as hard as you can. During my time at Cornish, I gave 100% effort. This was important and it set me on my path as an artist. 

Q: As you know, our focus at Cornish is teaching students to become interdisciplinary artists and creatives – what does the term interdisciplinary mean to you? How has this approach helped your career in the arts? 

A: Where I teach, PSU, our program is interdisciplinary and we really want students to investigate many different disciplines. We have a BFA program where they all work together; they don’t choose a specific discipline – students receive a BFA in Art Practice and it’s an interdisciplinary degree. We try to expose them to artists who work in many different disciplines which are incorporated in their work, and we have an educational approach that exposes them to many different ways of working. Ultimately though, many tend to gravitate towards a disciplinary focus, so we strive to accommodate this as well.

Q: How have you utilized your alumni connections both as a student and/or as an alum? 

A: I’ve had many opportunities that have come from both faculty and students that I worked with at Cornish. Since my time at Cornish there have been a number of exhibitions that I have participated in that were curated by either Cornish faculty or former students. I’m connected to individuals who have directed me towards opportunities that they think I would be potentially interested in and I have done the same. I always tell students that the relationships you build while in a program are very important. That’s your network. Try to foster deep connections and you can draw upon it for years to come. 

Q: What else would you like to share with the community? 

A: I will be exhibiting recent work in a forthcoming, August 2024 exhibition at Well Well Projects, a gallery in Portland, Oregon. It’s located in the Oregon Contemporary complex, which is in the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland. 

Installation View, “Erik Geschke: Selected Works”, Alexander Gallery, Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon, 2024, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Photo Credit: Erik Geschke

Artist Bio

Erik Geschke is a mixed-media artist who has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Venues include the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, CA; ZieherSmith Gallery in New York, NY; FIAC Contemporary Art Fair in Paris, France; The Navy Pier in Chicago, IL; University of Ulsan in Ulsan, South Korea; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Aldrich, CT; Vox Populi in Philadelphia, PA; Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Gallery in Seattle, WA; Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA; Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, WA; Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL; Jones Center for Contemporary Art in Austin, TX; Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, WA; Oregon Contemporary in Portland, OR. His work has been featured in publications such as Sculpture, New American Paintings, NY Arts Magazine, Drain Magazine, The Seattle Times, and The Oregonian.

Geschke has received honors and awards from the Seattle Art Museum (Betty Bowen PONCHO Special Recognition Award-1998); Oregon Arts Commission (Individual Artist Fellowship – 2012 and 2020, Career Opportunity Grant – 2011 and 2018)); Ford Family Foundation (Ford Family Foundation Residency for Oregon Artists at Djerassi – 2013, Career Opportunity Grant 2018); Seattle Arts Commission (Seattle Artists Award – 1996); Regional Arts and Culture Council (Project Grant – 2015, Professional Development Grant – 2011 and 2014); Jerome Foundation (Travel and Study Grant to China – 2002); College Art Association (Professional Development Honorable Mention Award – 2000; Pilchuck Glass School (PONCHO Scholarship – 1999); among others. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program; Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Sculpture Space Inc.; Vermont Studio Center; and Pratt Fine Arts Center.

Geschke received his M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Rinehart School of Sculpture and a B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts. He is a Professor of Art and coordinator of the sculpture area in the Schnitzer School of Art + Art History + Design at Portland State University in Portland, OR. Prior to Portland State, he taught at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and California State University, Long Beach.

To learn more about Erik, please visit erikgeschke.com or follow him on Instagram @erikgeschkestudio

Erik Geschke’s headshot by K.B. Dixon

Installation View, “Erik Geschke: Selected Works”, Alexander Gallery, Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon, 2024, Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable, Photo Credit: Kate Simmons

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