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Ones to Watch: Erin Henry

Erin Henry is the Atlanta-based oil painter whose work extends past the canvas; her practice is rooted in giving back to the community and supporting marginalized groups. As a classically trained French horn player, she taps into her studio creativity by soundtracking her practice to composers like Hector Berlioz or Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. We spoke with the painter about what tools she loves, her most challenging projects, and her manifestations. (If you’re in Atlanta – make sure to check out her murals.)

Your work pushes past the canvas and into the realm of activism – how is your art influenced by human rights?

Art is nothing if it is not for the good for the people. Creating art is the way we respond to society and I believe it is our job to do that responsibly. While refraining from sensationalism, I strive to use my platform and influence to spread a message of love and humanity. As a queer woman myself, I want to give a voice and representation to marginalized groups of people – and show that there is space for people of all kinds in the art world.

You’ve been drawing since you can remember – when did you shift more towards painting?

I started experimenting with oil paints when I was about 16 years old. Oil painting opened up a whole new world for me. It is a medium that has allowed me to fall in love with my creative process over and over again, and bend my vision into a more expressive space.

What tools/art supplies would you consider “Must-Haves”?

Oil paint is always my go-to because it is so versatile and dynamic – but recently, I’ve actually been using glue a lot more lately! When I want a mind refresher in between larger paintings, I like to go through old painting and drawing scraps and use recycled materials to create mixed media pieces.

What was the first piece you sold? How did it feel?

In my efforts to not become attached to my art – I honestly can’t even remember the first piece I ever sold, but I do remember that it felt absolutely amazing and that I knew it was only the beginning. The fact that someone paid me for something I enjoyed creating gave me a high — something I still get to feel every time I sell a new piece. 

Describe your studio. While you’re painting what do you listen to and what do you need by your side?

I only have one “must” when looking for a studio space to work – white walls! It’s okay if it’s a mess (and it always is) because, well duh, it’s an art studio. While I’m painting, I really like to listen to classical music and true crime podcasts. I usually have a nice cup of coffee by my side as well.

What have been your most exciting projects so far? Most challenging?

My most recent challenge was probably the electric guitar that I was commissioned to paint by the Atlanta United Fútbol Club. I had to completely take apart, sand, paint, lacquer, and reassemble a fender electric guitar. I’ve painted on some unconventional surfaces, but this was definitely a first and a challenge. It was definitely a challenge and pushed me creatively, but it’s so fulfilling to complete something you’ve never done before.

You left art school and continued to teach yourself your craft – what resources did you look to and what advice do you have for young artists in the same boat? 

School is great, but it is not the only way. There is so much to learn from other people and the world around you, outside of the classroom setting. I always encourage people to find a painter that they admire and watch them paint. Go take classes and workshops. Paint every day. CONSUME ART – all the time. A classroom can teach you to paint, but life and experience are what teach you how to be an artist.

If you were taking us on a tour of your Atlanta – what would it look like? What would we do?

There are so many unique places to visit in Atlanta! I would probably show you the secret, quiet, places that are special to me — my favorite mountaintops, parks, and secret paths in the woods where I like to spend time — my old studio spaces and buildings…It would also be fun to swing by my murals that I’ve painted and check out all the public art in the city.

What are some of the dreams you’ve manifested so far, and what’s to come?

I remember one time, I spent days researching and calling people to figure out how I would be able to paint a mural in the city, with little luck. It seemed like an opportunity that was always just out of my reach. I thought about it almost every day. Then the next month, I was contacted by an organization inviting me to paint my first public mural! A few months after that, I got to paint another, even bigger mural. And then another! It is absolutely possible to manifest good (or bad) things for yourself based on the energy and intentions you put into the world. I try to wake up with a smile on my face every morning knowing that I have the whole world in front of me. I plan to keep creating and moving forward positively, every single day.

Images courtesy of Salim Garcia .

Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch

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