“It was very ambitious, probably a bit crazy, definitely odd, but also quite beautiful and eerily quiet.” That’s Hewitt faculty member and visual artist Erik Sommer discussing his most recent art installation, Volvo 240. Throughout the month of August, Sommer’s piece was on display at Fastnet, an alternative exhibition space in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Fastnet is not a traditional art gallery but rather a shipping container that has been home to a variety of exhibitions since 2015. For his installation, Sommer knew he wanted to make the physical space part of the piece. He frequently creates small scenes or stories that feature common items made beautiful by the unexpected addition of cement as an artistic medium. “My work is generally about the passing of time, and these installations often feel like situations that a visitor is interrupting; they are quiet and serene and sort of spooky.”
For Volvo 240, Sommer imagined a scenario where someone moving overseas had to ship their car to its final destination. He completed the piece on-site in Red Hook over the course of five days, using a painstaking process to layer gesso, Portland cement, and acrylic gel with a small 1.5” brush. He chose materials that were thin enough to preserve the car’s original details as he coated everything from the windshield wipers to tire treads to the recognizable Volvo nameplate on the hood with the gritty texture of cement.
Sommer observes that a lot of 'art time' is spent thinking, planning, or solving problems before the actual work begins, and he’s purposeful about bringing his experiences as a working artist into the classroom. “I tend to let students experiment, make mistakes, try stuff out and discover the method that is best for them. This is the way I learn best, by making mistakes, so I try to stress that mistakes are good and necessary. Trial and error is a large part of my working method, so I encourage that in the classroom as well.” Whether in the library, digital media lab, or art studio, Sommer encourages his students to collaborate, strategize, and iterate as they work and create.
He also focuses on broadening students’ perspectives about what art is and can be, a concept that is obvious in his own work. “I try to open their minds to what types of materials they can use, things that they might not immediately recognize as an art material. I also try to stress the beauty of the imperfect, that something that is strange, unusual, and thought-provoking is often so much more striking and memorable than something that is simply pretty.”