LOS ANGELES – Admittedly, Erizku’s Eagle is perhaps best known for his blessed photo of pregnant Beyonce, which in 2017 became the most popular post in Instagram history. And Erisku has made many other memorable images of celebrities, including young poetess at the inauguration Amanda Gorman for the cover of Time and Black Panther actor Michael B. Jordan for GQ.
But in a recent interview in his extensive Los Angeles studio, 33-year-old Erizka, wearing Doc Martens boots on his feet and wearing a dreadlocks hat when Ethiopian pianist Emoha Tsege-Mariam Gebru played on speakers, said he considered himself first an artist who also works in painting, sculpture and video installation.
“That’s what I’m adamant about,” he said. “I’m not a hired photographer.”
The desire to draw the attention of the wider art world to Erisco’s work is part of what prompted Antwain Sargen, director and curator of Gagosian, to give him space on Park Avenue in the gallery for the show, which opens on March 10.
“The Eagle is one of the photographers in the Black Avant-garde who says that boundaries do not extend to the realities or conditions in which we make images,” Sargent said. “It’s a refreshing prospect, especially when it comes to the extremely white history of photography.”
“How are we, as the art world, going to ignore this?” Sargent continued. “You have photographers in Lagos, London, Johannesburg, New York and Los Angeles who make images that are not easily categorized and emphasize the desire of blacks, the beauty of blacks and the black community. It’s important for me. “
Erisku’s exhibition “Memories of a Lost Sphinx” features six photos from lightboxes in a black-painted interior along with a mixed media sculpture depicting the Great Sphinx at Giza as a blend of Egyptian, Greek and Asian influences. There’s also a golden spinning ball spinning, “Nefertiti – Miles Davis,»In the form of the Egyptian queen.
“I am deconstructing the mythological components that make up the Sphinx,” Erisku said. “It’s important for me to create confident, powerful, truly regal images of black people.”
Sargent has known Erisco since he interviewed Complex magazine about his 2014 exhibition The Only Way Is Up. Eriscu said he felt immediate consolation with him, feeling that “for the first time I didn’t have to explain the work.”
Born in Ethiopia and raised in the South Bronx – Erisku calls himself “out of projects” – he got into trouble in elementary school and said, “Art was the only way out for me.”
Engaged in sketching and drawing, he entered the Graduate School of Art and Design in Manhattan, began working in medical illustration and took a camera at Cooper Union, where in 2010 he received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
In his third year of Cooper Union, Erisco made a reef on Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” creating a photograph of “A Girl with a Bamboo Earring” depicting a black woman in a large heart-shaped earring that attracted public attention (edition sold at auction in 2017 for $ 52,500).
From there he moved to Yale, where he studied with photographer Gregory Crowdson and received a master’s degree in fine arts in 2014. Eriska was particularly inspired by the work of artists such as Richard Prince, Jeff Wall, Roe Etridge, Marcel Duchamp and David Hammans – “Those who worked abroad,” he said.
But in the beginning, he mastered the world of social media, viewing Instagram as his gallery, selectively opening his feed for public viewing at certain hours.
In 2012, he was presented at a group exhibition at the Flag Art Foundation and then had two solo exhibitions at the now closed Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in Chelsea, before joining Ben Brown in London and Hong Kong and then at the Night Gallery in Los Angeles. It is currently not represented.
“The work has an aesthetic appeal – you want to look at it,” said collector Glen Furman, founder of Flag and a longtime supporter of Erisco’s work. “But there’s always a lot more going on beneath the surface.”
Some representatives of the art world have already noticed. In 2017, the Public Art Fund demonstrated Eriska’s work at Wi-Fi kiosks in all five districts as part of the “Commercial Break” exhibition.
In 2019, curator Alison M. Glenn included Eriska in her show “Small Talk” at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. “The strength of his practice is that it’s available at multiple points for a lot of different people,” Glenn said. “He leans and shifts cognitive symbols. This is an art story. It was a work of painting. “
Last year, the Public Art Fund showed 13 photos of Erisco at bus shelters in New York and Chicago in a show called “New Visions for Iris,” which included a still life dedicated to mass imprisonment and a portrait of Michael Brown Sr.
“He is involved in an art-historical conversation,” said Daniel C. Palmer, curator of the foundation, “from old masters to modern images of our present.”
Gagasyan’s exhibition makes sense, Sargent said, in part because it broadens the notion of what black art might be at a time when black portraits have turned into a market frenzy.
“The art world has smoothed out the ways Blackness works,” Sargent said. “Holding such exhibitions helps to go beyond the excessive emphasis on figurative painting,” although he noted that figurative work is appropriate.
He added that this is a way to continue the conversation “beyond some fashionable notions of the figure of Black.”
Sargent noted the long-overdue recognition of black photographers such as Anthony Barbosa, as well as Min Smith and the 1960s Kamoinge group, recently shown in Whitney. “We need to use all strategies to make sure our images are seen and appreciated,” he said, “because, frankly, the art world doesn’t care.”
The display of Erisk in the Gagosyan Space Park & 75 – a showcase visible from the street – gives the exhibition considerable accessibility. “Because of the greater number of black artists than ever, the problem remains that museums and galleries attract this audience to the work of members of their community,” he said. “There are many barriers to entering the world of art.”
Eriska often includes wildlife in his images – he photographed hip-hop star Nipsi Hasla with a horse, Michael B. Jordan with a falcon and a wolf; Gorman with a bird (which is now twittering in a cage by the window in Erisco’s workshop). He said he was early inspired by Joseph Boyce’s radical performance in 1974 – “I like America and America loves me” – in which the German artist spent a week in the gallery of his dealer, surrounded by a live coyote.
The cost of Erisku’s works for such a great gallery owner as Gagasyan is low: the works sell for about $ 40,000-60,000. But Sargent said it was important for galleries with blue chips to showcase new perspectives. “If we honestly say we want to make sure all the voices are represented in the art world, we need to be serious about providing platforms for artists who think in ways that diverge from traditional notions of image creation. Said Sargent.
To some extent, Erizku has bypassed goalkeepers, given that he has been presenting his own shows on social media for many years. The artist said that his main interest is the ability to convey and exalt black images, whether it is actress Viola Davis, African masks, hands in nail salons, Ethiopian sex workers or basketball player Kevin Durant.
“I want to be remembered for being a black man,” Erisku said, “to push the boundaries of black art.”
Avol Erizku: Memories of the Lost SphinxMarch 10 – April 16, Gagasyan Park & 75, 821 Park Ave., Manhattan. 212-796-1228; gagosian.com.