Darryl Erdmann (15th Street Gallery)


“I don’t have a limitation,” says Darryl Erdmann, “If I get an idea of what I want to express, lots of times the title and the feel of that piece super exceeds what ever I have to do to get to that end… and that’s what I’ll do.” This may seem like a brazen attitude to painting, but for the artist, who believes that “the concept of the piece is 5000 times more important,” he had better be prepared to achieve that concept, whatever it may be. To clarify, Erdmann states that “Lots of people will say ‘You’re talented enough to be able to do that,’ and I will respond, ‘Well, no, I spent years silk-screening, I spent years painting signs, I did so much work with materials that I learned how to express myself, plexiglass, paint, stainless, wood, it didn’t matter, everything was an adventure for me. And it still is.’”


The story began long ago. “My dad was a big influence early on. I was probably the most different child, all three of us liked sports, we lived in a small town, born and raised in Brigham City. I started building things because I noticed my dad was in the garage all of the time making things. He was a welder. His father and his father’s father owned the first Chevrolet dealership in town, we had a farm, and he’d spend his time out in the garage creating things. I picked up on that. He taught me how to weld, he taught me how to build things, he taught me how to get my hands dirty. I was working and fixing cars when I was 8 years old. I learned everything that he knew how to do. I went in that direction.”


At about 7 or 8 Erdmann discovered he cold draw. His mother had a legal pad, and through an interactive program on television, he unwittingly learned his first lessons in aesthetics. He says, “I started building things out of wood. My dad made a movie of me cutting the wood and hammering nails. He said ‘I don’t know what that is son, but I know I couldn’t do that.’”


Erdmann’s formal art education began at Box Elder High School in his sophomore year. Marion Hyde was his primary influence while he and two other teachers would become formative influences “and have kept me going this whole time.” Hyde stated presciently “If you let it stop there, I’ll kick your butt” upon graduation.


Erdmann was to let it stop there, temporarily, as “music became just as big or larger. For the next few years I started playing the drums. I ended up playing professionally. I was a studio drummer for Capitol Records. Then we went to the school of hard knocks, on the road, playing music. After many years playing, after enough nights of Holiday Inns, finally, in San Jose, I hitchhiked back home to get started at Weber State. In Art.”


“I would much rather be drawing from that work bench and conceptually doing artwork and listening to music than probably anything on the planet. There are priorities, of course, but I’ll start doing work on stainless steel, and… you work it out.” Working it out is what Erdmann does best and what enables his vast area of conceptualization to manifest. “Naturally, I do not seclude any conceptual possibility of anything… it may be as large as world peace,, or the intrinsic value of a found object, it has to be something that relates to me that not only is important but needs to be said.”


“Tributes to Mortality” is a diptych that is a product of not only master artistic skill, but master craftsmanship. Each piece of the pair is painted meticulously on wood panel, and applied on and between two layers of plexiglass, with a cut square of black in the glass and then covered with another layer of plexiglass. Every step in the process has a purpose, every element in the piece has a reason, and every articulated symbolic expression has meaning. Each piece is painted with a lively and energetic gestural articulation of sea blue, clay brown, beige, white, pale gray, and black line. How these colors are applied is something irregular, spontaneous, haphazard, with a flow that can be frenzied, interrupted, or merely a dab of color. Behind the plexiglass is the interweaving and interconnecting of line and color that is happening between layers. All is an excited articulation of painted form.  


Read for conceptual meaning, which is Erdmann’s hope and intention, we find a visual irony. We find the colors of life, of earth, of water, of sky, of ether, of motion, and all of this in a state of ebb and of flow. We see life happening in each of these canvases, with twists and turns, the beginnings and ends, the predictable and unexpected, the random and the chaotic, and the rhythms of life. But central is death itself, not twisting or turning, no beginning or end, nothing predictable or unexpected, nor random or chaotic, it is simply what it is, and it is exact, and it is precise. It is a dense and dark void. Nothing can penetrate it. And Erdmann needed two canvases not one to emphasize this, and this is life paying tribute to its own mortality, life paying tribute to death, and the great irony of the diptych.


For this conceptualization to occur took many elements beyond simply painting on a canvas. Beyond his relationship with his father and “learn[ing] everything that he knew how to do,” Erdmann says “Having a sign shop I learned about plexiglass, and I learned how to layer materials, I learned the same way I learned about welding, and if I didn’t know something, chances are I knew somebody that did.” With Darryl Erdman, which is something most don’t understand about his work, if he has the idea, there is nothing standing in the way of his realizing the materialization of the concept. Says Erdmann, “It’s not a question of me being all over the place, it’s a question of me having a full range of ability to reach the concept in any way I desire, plexiglass, steel, wood, canvas… it takes what it takes.”


“Arc,” like “Tributes to Mortality,” will be showing in September at 15th Street Gallery. Yet unlike “Tributes to Mortality,” “Arc” is a more direct work on canvas, a large piece that requires Erdmann’s abstract technical and sensible brilliance, and is the kind of work that most of his audience recognizes “and people feel comfortable with.” “Arc” is a piece that can be read in a duplicity of ways, for example, the colors can be broken down into purple, green, and orange, and most will recognize the dominance of the purple form being some kind of “arc” that is the center of focus although the oranges are brilliant and the sea foam green is a breezy hue that compliments the other color. An arc is a curvature that generally has a tripartite quality, thus the paramount appearance of the three hues, and the relationship between the three being one of support, alludes to the arc, but in general the content and concept for this more emotively charged work is formal, and the response is on many levels.


However, “If a piece requires something different I’m going to go after that,” says Erdmann. When one looks at “Ecos,” one realizes the physical reach that Erdmann has with his materials, and the freedom he has to articulate his concepts. “Ecos” is has none of the characteristic abstract sensibilities of “Tributes to Mortality” or “Arc” but the refined and concise articulation of a master craftsman who also happens to be a conceptual artist. The piece is a 3/4” thick structure of smoked plexiglass, incorporated with 3 1/8 inch inserted plexiglass panels, painted on both the front and reverse of each panel. The piece is an evocative and very sober statement on the fragility of the earth’s ecosystem’s, namely our immediate own, and the fragile webbing that is a non-linear system, and the state of disrepair of a non-natural linear system. In a very orderly and cogent manner Erdmann makes an almost reverent allusion to nature that is bold, while being understated, as the best statements are.


Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. “Vibrato” is also a title for another painting at 15th Street Gallery. Like “Arc,” “Vibrato” is a piece people “feel comfortable with” and recognize Erdmann’s signature hand at abstract art. Titles are incredibly important to Erdmann and most often, a way to encourage viewers to absorb the visual language of his work conceptually, and allow key signifiers to enable paths of understanding. “Vibrato” is most certainly a good lead into this painting, and while understanding Erdmann’s passion for music, one has a good chance for understanding this piece.


Curiously, it is the subtlest of the three we have examined from his current to show at 15th Street Gallery. This piece has a much more variegated palette, and is highly and delicately nuanced. Without the definitive thin line of black that finds its way through the canvas, playfully, the canvas would loose focus and the articulation would become diffuse. But given this line as a sort of grounding to the delicate azure blues, taupe’s, white, beige, and citrus, these soft colors are allowed to do just what the title indicates, and a vibrato is manifested as colors pulsate and are given change of pitch, from one hue to the next, all to the added expression of the black line.


But then asks Erdmann rhetorically, as if he has heard it too many times, “Why do you want to change from that to that? Because it’s necessary” is his final response.

What is necessary is “Recital,” a painting altogether different in style and approach than the three in the show, none the less popular, only one that viewers might have more trouble understanding and coming to grips with. The may love it, but they might not “feel [as] comfortable” with it.


What is necessary is a stylization that is requisite for the conceptualization that allows Erdmann to “Hit the mark.” Again, “Recital” is about music, but it is not about a quality of music or the matter of music but very matter-of-fact, like “Ecos.” In a sense, it is more literal, it is controlled. Instead of a vacillation with nuances, here is a literal mechanization of music, being amplified from a box through a wire; the scene has an element that is very “Pop.” The composition is red, the music is “hot” and is has a rhythm and an intensity, and as it is played from the amplifier through the zone of color, it shifts in hue until it passes through, transformed, having been seen and heard. It is a literal passage, and a transient abstraction, thus Erdmann saw this more graphic approach, one attributed, like “Ecos” to his years as a sign painter, as his visual vocabulary of choice.


“I am so fortunate to paint like that,” says Erdmann. A life of events and an insatiable passion has found him in a position of artistic freedom and license to make choices. Whatever concept may be his driving force, the means of conveying that abstractly are made available to him, without limitation through choices. Whether it be an obscure and malleable concept that demands the flexibility of his loose and gestural abstract style that has evolved, or whether it be a more literal and restrained concept, that might demand a more structural approach acquired through sign painting, he has a choice. Be it a concept that might demand only canvas and paint for full fruition, or be it a construct of layers of plexiglass, or even steel, and metal, Erdmann is prepared for anything. He only hopes that his audience can keep up, and enjoy, and take advantage of the benefit of the full fruition of his multi-talented art making that represents a lifetime of labor and learning and enjoy a “total freedom in possibility.”  


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