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Sandra and Eddie

For the Love of Art

SVA: Could you tell us a little about how you two met?

SANDRA: We met in the summer of 2010 in the painting summer residency program at SVA. I noticed Eddie our first day when everyone was introducing themselves and their work to all the other residents. I saw Eddie do his presentation and thought, “this guy is really smart, his work is really interesting,” and he was pretty cute, which was bonus! Immediately after the lectures, I ran after him and we started talking to each other. We realized we were both really into each other’s work and both really ambitious.

EDDIE: I was in a place where I was really changing up a lot of my work. I had just started grad school the year before and had emptied out my entire practice and was starting fresh. I started hanging out with Sandra, and besides the fact she had a very charming accent, she knew some things that I didn’t know and it seemed like she understood this whole art thing. I thought, “I need to learn from her because I don’t know why she is walking around the streets of New York taking pictures of garbage. There must be something there.” I was just more curious than anything.

SANDRA: When we first started hanging out, there were a lot of weird cultural misunderstandings. I had been living in London for about 11 years, so I had that typical English sarcasm with a bit of the German dry sense of humor and he just did not understand.

EDDIE: I’m from Wisconsin, so you know, we are all about Midwestern hospitality. I thought, “Gosh, she’s a jerk,” because she kept flirting with me by teasing me. We eventually got on the same page. Not only was it very romantic, meeting someone in NYC, but we were both just really engaged in what each other was doing. I was in a really flexible period with my work and Sandra was engaged in this critical discourse that was beyond me. We were bouncing back and forth with ideas and had a really fruitful exchange. After the residency, we went back to London and Wisconsin respectively, and had a long distance relationship.

SANDRA: I was applying to different MFA programs at the time and I remember getting into Goldsmiths (in London) and being so excited because it was my dream school. But then I got a full ride to University of Wisconsin Madison, which would allow Eddie and I to live together, and I remember thinking, “It’s time to make a decision about this relationship! I decided to go to Madison.”

EDDIE: After living together in Wisconsin, we got engaged and everything since then has been a continuous upward trajectory. Getting to know each other and working with each other professionally, but having the most intimately and emotional kind of relationship either of us have ever been in… Thank goodness for the SVA Summer Residency program.

SANDRA: If it wasn’t for SVA there wouldn’t be a baby!

SVA: Tell us about where you are from. How has it shaped or changed your art practice?

EDDIE: I was from Milwaukee Wisconsin, born and raised. Lived there my entire adult live. I went to grad school at UW Madison, a total product of the Wisconsin education system. My whole art education revolved around the cultural icons of that region, people like Michelle Grabner and local artists like Fred Stonehouse, and my experience working for a few galleries in Milwaukee. Basically, I developed my understanding of art from a local engagement with the kind of regionalism of the Milwaukee/Chicago area. A lot of hand crafted, lowbrow, tattoo art, Juxtapoz magazine kind of stuff. A lot of vernacular arts in the rural Wisconsin area, all had a role in developing my visual language.I just didn’t understand what made other art, art. I wasn’t hugely engaged in critical theory or things like that. That all changed in grad school.

SANDRA: For me it was the other extreme. I had another degree is sociology. I was kind of hiding behind theory.

Ultimately it was my experience with Sandra that changed my practice completely. To be able to find someone to connect with so intimately and intellectually was amazing, and so many of my experiences in the program are caught up with that.

SVA: Tell us about your background. How did you get to be interested in art?

EDDIE: I think I was always pegged to be an artist from when I was little. I remember being interested in figuring out how to process information visually and put it on a piece of paper. I remember being so excited when I learned how to draw snow laying on branches in the first grade. Everyone was rooting of me. I was expected to be an artist. Came from a real blue collar family. My mom raised my sister and I while working at Supercuts. My dad worked in a factory. I come from a long line of factory workers and service industry workers, and it was always really impressed on me from my family: “well, you can do this, and you should do this.” Even though I didn’t have any idea what being an artist actually meant.

SANDRA: I also always enjoyed making things, but I never really had that encouragement. My parents always saw it as a pastime and that it would go away as I got older. My dad is an accountant and my mom is a nurse, they are a perfectly middle class family. There are no artists in my family anywhere. I never really went to galleries. I remember once I asked my dad to take me to a show of Gerhardt Richter’s paintings. And I was in awe of these giant abstract paintings and my dad was in the corner tapping his foot thinking, “What is this? Is this art? Can we go now?” It was always emphasized that I should get a real job. As a result I thought about what I could do where I still had a bit of creative freedom. So I chose the humanities, journalism and creative writing. I ended up working for a gossip magazine researching stars without makeup. And I said, "I CAN'T DO THIS!" So it took me a while. It wasn’t till I was 25 or 26 when I made the decision to become an artist and to go back to school for my BFA. It was a bit of a winding road for me. His was more straightforward.

EDDIE: To be fair, when I graduated from undergrad my mom said “oh, well you can be a graphic designer” and my dad was saying, “You could get a job at the factory doing designs.” I was like, "that’s not really what I went for." And until this day, really until I started teaching, they didn’t understand what I was doing.

We are each other’s most vital community and champions of each other’s work wherever we go. We are each other’s sounding board for new ideas. We try to lift each other up and provide opportunities for each other at every step of the way.

SVA: Is there a local art scene where you live? Are you a part of a local community?

EDDIE: We live in Providence, Rhode Island. There are probably art scenes going on here that we don’t know about. We came here with a completely different agenda. I was teaching at Brown, I had a 3 year contract and I was busting my ass to build a completely new portfolio to leave that position with. So I was just focusing on my work, focusing on my teaching. Sandra was doing the same. We just didn’t really have the time to get involved until we met the people from Grin (they hate it when you call them Grin Gallery - just Grin!).

SANDRA: One evening a couple of weeks after we arrived, we attended one of their openings. They were really super friendly, something you wouldn’t necessarily see from a NY gallery. We started chatting, and I noticed they had an open submission policy. A couple days later, I submitted some images and they offered me a solo show! Now I’m one of their represented artists. They’ve become representatives of the local art scene and have really brought us into it. At the beginning of this year we moved into a studio complex in Pawtucket, just north of Providence. It’s the nicest studio facility we’ve ever seen, the kind of thing you couldn’t even imagine in NYC. All of our friends work there. It has turned into a really nice community. We are happy with the arts community in the Providence area, but it was a step by step process, because it’s not necessarily easy to find.

EDDIE: One of the things I think is really significant about Providence, is that it seems to be a real connecting point between different scenes across the east coast. There was a lot of isolation when we lived in Wisconsin, we didn’t have that kind of fluid connectivity between interested individuals like you do on the east coast. I wouldn’t even say our community experience is isolated to Providence so much as it is the east coast. It reaches across to Boston and down to NYC.

SANDRA: Another important thing I need to add to that is that we are each other’s most vital community and champions of each other’s work wherever we go. We are each other’s sounding board for new ideas, we help each other build things or assist each other conceptually depending on the skill set needed, we look over each other’s teaching applications, and try to lift each other up and provide opportunities for each other at every step of the way.

SVA: How has your experience in NYC and the Residency program shaped the future of your practice and community back home?

EDDIE: I was so receptive to these changes in my practice. No offense to New York or anything, but I think my experience was so fruitful from talking with you (Sandra), and you bringing me shows, and exposing me to artists. Of course, just being in NYC was great for this, but ultimately it was my experience with Sandra that changed my practice completely. To be able to find someone to connect with so intimately and intellectually was amazing and so many of my experiences in the program are caught up with that.

SANDRA: The city, in London, can make you feel so isolated. In my BFA, because I was several years older, 26-29, I was working in isolation. I was much older than most undergraduate students who were 18-19. Being at the Residency and meeting Eddie, it was so great to find someone to talk to about art and to go shows with. It was so refreshing to have that intimate exchange on a day-to-day basis.

Man and women in a work studio looking straight ahead.
Drummer stule
A woman wearing a scarf and a man in a sweater siting on a brown couch.

SVA: Do you have a favorite place or site for inspiration where you live?

EDDIE: In my work in particular it always comes back to a sense of home and especially Milwaukee. I am trying to work through my own personal history and nostalgia with my more mature perspective on those places, as I get older. One place in particular is my dad’s rumpus room, because it’s the most outrageous, amazing collection of personal artifacts that you’ve ever seen. It kind of allows me to see my dad in a totally different light, because it’s very much an installation. Literally from top to bottom all the walls, he has collections of stuff. I know most of it from when I was a baby. It’s a museum to himself. He has all the pennants of the sports teams of Wisconsin, stuff like that. But then he’ll have things intermingling with that like he has a picture of him and his brother playing in winter when he was three years old. And then below that he has the jacket and hat hanging on a hanger. He has a movie monster corner, Beatles memorabilia everywhere, he has little diorama style setups on all of these different shelves. He has all these categorized VHS tapes that he still watches very frequently, and he also has a little stage he had me build for all his Beatles figurines. He collects illustrated pizza bags from pizza restaurants he loves. It’s an unbelievable outsider artist installation; it’s a museum, an autobiographical museum in the most intimate and amazing respect.

SANDRA: Especially if you’ve lived in so many different places, your sense of self is caught up in all of these different places. You leave a piece of self behind everywhere you go. My roots and my family are in Germany, and I still feel very connected to London, because I was there for 13 years and some of my best friends are still there, it feels very much like home to me. But home is also here, in Providence, where we started our family. The question of place and home is a complex one, to which I don’t really have a straightforward answer.

See Sandra and Eddie's artwork at sandraerbacher.com/ and eddievillanueva.com/

Learn more about SVA's Summer Residency Programs for emerging and mid-career artists and designers at sva.edu/residency

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