New Mexico Artist to Know Now Eric-Paul Riege (Diné) updates us on the work he’s been making, the space he’s holding, and material as a teacher.
This past March (the one that feels approximately 200 years ago) Southwest Contemporary held its second-annual exhibition 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now. Selected from over 400 submissions, these are the artists we consider to be shaping the landscape of contemporary art in New Mexico.
Just one week after the opening, however, the gallery closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, these artists have continued to create, in terms of art as well as impact in their communities. We’re checking in with each of them to see how they are, and what they’re making now.
lives in Gallup, NM
born in Gallup, NM
ericpaulriege.com | @ericpaulriege
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your process? Has it changed where, how or when you work? Has it changed the subject matter?
2020 has been lonely, dude. I’m a fiber artist and with that, I am enthralled with touching and feeling. It is vital to my happiness. I flourish with bodies around to dance with, to hug, to hold, to caress, to kiss, to weave with, to lift up. I am an extrovert in many ways and only having the means of a screen to connect has been isolating and confusing. Luckily within the past couple of months with proper COVID-19 precautions being more widespread, I have been able to absorb the energies of bodies from proper social distance respect, and have begun revitalization of fullness again. 2020 has brought up questions and anxieties about why I do what I do. While it has definitely provided time in working on things, there were times where I didn’t want to work on anything because that felt inappropriate or not right. It felt selfish, in a way, to make art. I felt bad to work on postponed and indefinite projects. I was really unmotivated most of this year and have still been experiencing bouts of that. Was this a time to reignite or to regress or to resign? I think my relationship with material has been one of excitement because I want to say hello to new media. I see all material as a teacher. As a place of wisdom. When I approach new media I want to say hello and to say these are my thoughts—tell me yours. Let’s sing together and maybe we’ll make a good enough song for us to dance to.
What are your top concerns for the arts and your fellow artists?
My main concern lies in the mental health of my homies. It’s fucking hard to find your place in the world. It’s fucking hard to feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. I know artists are sensitive. I know people are sensitive. I guess that’s where I’m worried and concerned right now—with the bombardment of struggle and trauma presented to us daily. Not only my own but for my family, my friends, my colleagues, for strangers, for classmates, for past lovers. Of course, I’ve been concerned about opportunities waning, spaces being shut down, struggle and trauma manifesting. And with that, I care about the bodies that experience that. Like damn, lemme give you a hug. I’ve always said that I hope in some ways my work can be something that you could spoon or that can spoon you. That’s really all I think my purpose is in a lot of ways, and so that’s really present in my work. Why do we cuddle stuffed animals as children? Why do our pets? Fiber art and soft sculpture and weaving bring warmth to our bodies and souls. It’s literally the utilitarian purpose of cloth. It cares so much for our well-being that I celebrate all aspects of cloth-making because of that. If I can’t give you a hug, then maybe in some ways my work can do that.
I see all material as a teacher. As a place of wisdom. When I approach new media I want to say hello and to say these are my thoughts—tell me yours. Let’s sing together and maybe we’ll make a good enough song for us to dance to.
How has your relationship with art-making changed during this time?
I’ve been drawing and painting on my face and body a lot. I adorn my body in materials to strengthen our relationship with each other. I dance around my house and studio in beautiful and ephemeral private ceremonies and rituals. I believe movement is passion and stillness is sacred. These are moments that radiate and absorb energy. I think of clothes as armor, fashion as a shield, and wearable art as power and regalia as spiritual. I weave them all together as I navigate the world, and it births itself into structures of strength and survival and prayer and ceremony.
Tell us about your current projects or pieces:
I just finished weaving a basket. I’ve been wanting to weave more baskets. I think carrying is one of the most intimate gestures and baskets gift us that.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve been praying to objects before I go to bed and putting them under my pillow. When I awake, they tell me they’ve listened. I’ve done that for quite some time and all of my dreams have come true. Connect to your past, present, and future selves and then beauty will shine down on you and direct you to where you belong and we all belong here and there and everywhere.