Thursday Spotlight: How Litter Inspired the Playful Erik’s Paper Route
The neighborhood felt like home immediately. My downstairs neighbor Jean had, until recently, lived in the same apartment for 50 years, and her love for Greenpoint was infectious. She was the first to welcome me and my fiancé to Brooklyn, and she always insisted on giving us fresh bread every week from a local Polish bakery.
I’ve met lots of wonderful creatives in the studio space at 108 Bayard who have been incredibly supportive and friendly. It’s inspiring seeing people pursue their passion full heartedly in the fields of fashion, photography and design.
Erik’s Paper Route is such a lovely name. This may seem random, but did you have a paper route as a child?
Sadly no! Having grown up in the Jersey suburbs I did ride my bike constantly as a kid to get around and there was always a freeing feeling associated with it. “Paper route” is a play on words for me as I head in a new direction with a new medium. Paper routes exist to spread the news and Erik’s Paper Route was created out of a need to express my reaction to it.
Can you discuss the origin of your company?
Moving to Brooklyn three years ago was a pivotal moment for me and represented a dream fulfilled. Having lived in DC for 10 years prior, I was surprised by the volume of discarded candy wrappers on the sidewalks and streets of NYC — and I loved it. DC was an amazing city to live in but my old neighborhood didn’t offer me the grit or beautiful chaos I found in Brooklyn.
Erik’s Paper Route started in January 2018 as a reaction to seeing a lot of perfectly filtered photos and influencer social accounts on Instagram after a long day at my day job. As great as social media can be at giving people a platform to share their work, it can also be overwhelming and make you question, “Am I doing enough creatively?” or “Why am I the only one who hasn’t been to Costa Rica?” It’s all really silly when you think about it but it was a natural response for me. Sometimes you just need to take a break from your phone and that’s when I saw a stack of multi-colored paper staring at me on my desk. I started to rip it up into letters that spelled out the phrase “Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone Else” and that’s the moment when everything changed for me and this new route began.
Your work has a strong political bent, but also a nostalgic one. Can you discuss how those ideas coalesce?
Everything stems from a loss of innocence I experienced growing up — learning that everything is not what it once may have seemed. A lot of my work relates to repurposing food and candy packaging from my childhood. The sheen of a candy wrapper has lost its luster to me seeing it dirtied on a Brooklyn sidewalk, which I also see as a metaphor. I’m nostalgic for a time where I would buy airheads for 25 cents at my local pool during hot summers — but relating it to my life now — the white mystery airhead flavor represents our current president. A “what’s that airhead gonna do next” type of mentality. I try to imbue a playful and mischievous tone into my work to address serious issues that have become more apparent to me as I’ve gotten older.
A former art teacher told me that altering one minor component to a project can drastically change the meaning of something entirely. I’ve kept that in my mind as I work.
If you eat too much sugar you’ll get a cavity and I like to play with the idea that these sweetly package treats should be consumed with care. Don’t believe everything you see just because you saw it online or heard it on the news.
Politics is not something I thought of as much growing up. As I got older and went to college in DC I couldn’t help but become hyperaware of what was going on in my backyard. I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in a time where, as a gay man, I’ve seen my rights increased precisely at the times I truly wanted them. When same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in June 2015, I visited the White House that night to see it emblazoned in the colors of the rainbow. That was a moment of great hope and validation to know I was good enough to make my voice a little louder as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
With this current administration there’s a lot more at risk, and my artwork is the best route I know of to vocalize my disapproval of Trump.
Your work is on paper — what instruments do you use for your drawings? Is there a digital component?
I use an X-acto knife to cut all my pieces. Sometimes I’ll get stubborn and won’t change the blade for a couple weeks which causes it to get more blunt and harder to use — but working with my hands and the paper medium has allowed me to release myself from the expectation of perfection. And to be honest, supplies and blades are expensive so I really like to let the tools run their course til I absolutely need something new. I’ll just roll with what I’ve got til my next payday. It’s forced me to not be as wasteful and I love that. There’s no such thing as messing up to me with the medium — only happy accidents — perfection is boring.
The digital component comes only when I photograph the pieces to create prints. I’d like to experiment with a laser cutter to mass produce my pieces. The idea of creating something I first made organically by hand and then mass producing it is fascinating to me. Time is money. I’m constantly thinking, as a small business, how I can work smarter, not harder.
Any projects you have coming up? Anything else you’d like to discuss?
I am working on a new series that involves the idea of chance. I love the concept of games like checkers and chess and how the small moves you make can have a huge impact on your end goal. I’ve learned the most successful people have made lots of small moves in the right direction over time, and I want to do the same as it relates conceptually to my work.
I’m moving away from candy and food packaging at the moment and experimenting with new subject matter that involves scenes from everyday life made from paper. I’ve always found inspiration from everyday ordinary things.
Greenpoint has been the perfect home and launch pad for Erik’s Paper Route. I’ll be participating in the Greenpoint Open Studios June 8 and 9 and am looking forward to sharing my work with more people in the community.