Alumni Spotlight

Erica McCarrens, BFA 2005, Drawing

Erica grew up in Chicago and came to Memphis to attend MCA on scholarship. She graduated in December 2005 and was our student speaker at the 2006 commencement ceremony. Immediately upon graduation, she began a freelance career as an artist and art instructor. About three years ago, Erica joined the Dixon Gallery and Gardens as a museum educator, first as an outreach instructor, then as a full time employee. She is now the Dixon’s Children’s Program Coordinator where she "makes the museum fun and approachable for kids, families, and schools." She is married to her best friend, Sean, and they have a 3 year old girl named Lucy and a little boy due in May.

An Interview with Erica McCarrens . . .
1. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in and around Chicago IL. I moved to Memphis to go to Memphis College of Art. I currently live in Memphis TN.

2. What was your first job?

My first job was a bag girl at a Jewel grocery store in Chicago. I lasted 2 months. Then I got a much better job at a bulk foods/international store, The Home Economist. I started working there the summer of my junior year of high school and stayed until I left for Memphis.

3. What is your favorite food?

Egg and bacon pasta.

4. What is your favorite book?

Don’t make me choose! But if I have to, The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.

5. What is your favorite movie?

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

6. What do you waste your money on?

Yummy lunches and sugar cereal.

7. What was the dumbest thing you ever did?
I intentionally angered a bee hive with a can of coke because I was bored. Luckily, I was a fast runner at the age of 10. Also at the age of 10, I climbed a tall tree at my bus stop and was too scared to get down and, consequently, missed my bus. That was a dumb year for me…
8. Can you tell us about your current project?

Right now, I work on miniatures. I do this because they are portable, and I can work on them secretly while my daughter is around. She not only wants to paint while I paint, she MUST use my paints, too. So, sometimes I just keep it to myself. The subjects are small animals depicting their fragility. At first glance, the animals appear to be wounded, but closer inspection will show no real pain or alarm in their faces or body language. I also like to paint the Big Bang.

9. Briefly, describe your workspace.

I’m surrounded by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens’ beauty. I have a spacious office which I share with a great office mate who is from England. I think my office used to be part of the garage when the Dixons lived here. We have a window which looks out into the gardens. Outside the office door is a studio and art classroom, which sometimes doubles as a place for board meetings, and other suit-attire shenanigans, so we have to keep the place very tidy.

10. Which artists had the greatest influence on you?

Although many of my influences have come from history books, and my color pallets from specific paintings, my real influences come from the artists I meet, teach, or from whom I have had instruction. MCA has my two greatest influences; Fred Burton and Remy Miller. I would say they had a much greater impact on me than any distant or dead artist.

11. If you could have lunch with one artist, dead or alive, who would that be and why?

Artemisia Gentileschi! Now there is a strong, determined, and extraordinarily talented woman. I would like to know how she did it all, and ask her some painting technique questions. I’d be very nervous, and I wouldn’t know what to wear, but she seems friendly enough in books.

12. Give us 5 words that describe your overall style.

Obsessive, colorful, detailed, cheerful, and sarcastic.

13. What is your fondest memory?

My grandma lives on a cozy block on the south side of Chicago. Back in the day, every house had a kid my age, and we used to play cops and robbers until long after sun down. Without shoes! And story time with my mom. While reading, she used to slip in the wrong dialogue just to see if I was paying attention.

14. How often do you work on your art?

Not as often as I’d like on my personal art. A full time job, a house, and a 3 year old are a lot to keep up with. I won’t say my husband is a lot to keep up with because he will most likely read this. However, I work on art daily in my workplace. I am surrounded by the Dixon’s beautiful permanent collection, and the traveling exhibitions are always amazing. We also have a gallery which features local artists. I come up with art projects and demos to fit all the shows. So, I’m never too far from my ideas.

15. How did you change or grow while at MCA?

In every way! When I came to Memphis, I had never left Illinois, except for one flu-plagued trip to Wisconsin as a young girl. I was always nervous, shy and kept to myself. Leaving Chicago and coming to MCA was terrifying, but I did it for some reason. By the first week of school, I had met the people who are still considered my very best friends and, eventually, I met my wonderful husband.

I learned philosophy, history, science and, yes, even math in a new way that incorporated all of my senses. Professors asked hard questions, and they cared about my answers so they pressed me. In return, I cared about my professors, so I tried so hard not to let them down. I became very independent and confident because of the way I was held accountable for everything in school. I am now a completely different person than the small scared girl who left Chicago.

16. What one piece of advice do you have for new artists?

Do a lot of hard work, and be humble for a while. Build yourself up from the bottom. Pretty much how any life-long career starts. Being an artist is really no different.

17. What would you like to be remembered for?

My sense of humor, my cooking, and my love.

18. Is there anything you would change about your life today and, if so, what?

Not really. I’m extremely happy and lucky to have what I have. I guess it would be nice if I could have Mary Poppins as a nanny for my 3 year old daughter and soon-to-be newborn son. Other than that, I have no regrets.

Erica's Art . . .