By Jacqueline Howell
We are big fans of street art both local and international, so when we had the chance to attend a live art warehouse party back in the spring, we jumped at the chance. This event brought us in close proximity to the work of EGR, a Toronto-based street artist, muralist and painter. It was a rare chance to see an artist creating art live on site at an event, and it was impressive (if not astounding) to see an artist work so well and remain composed under public pressure before a crowd. This artist, in fact, was able to engage with the media and guests of the party, stand for photos, and socialize while offering treats and catching up with friends, all while looking great and creating a whole painting in a couple of hours. We were smitten!
Always moving, this artist has been creating pocket sized paintings, large public murals (in collaboration with other artists), Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans PangeaSeed Foundation /Love Letters to the Great Lakes project, and more, all while creating her own limited editions for sale. The artist is clearly engaged and involved in the concerns of the city and the natural world in meaningful ways, part of an emerging and exciting new way of evaluating and respecting graffiti artists today, who are finally getting their due as the artists of the modern city. EGR’s work often focuses on striking, strong, beautiful women at the center of urban landscapes, figures often navigating harsh and gritty urban realities. There’s a bit of magic to these landscapes and portraits, which are unique among street artists for both their female-centered stories and for the attitude that beauty can impact and improve these difficult landscapes, something these works clearly do. Other subjects include Pop Art icons and figures in music (including a gorgeous Prince tribute.) We followed up with EGR (aka Erica Balon) to find out what she’s been working on since the art party, what her creative interests are outside of these projects, and what’s next.
Step On Magazine: What’s new with you?
EGR: Between painting commissions, murals and live painting at events throughout the city, I’ve been playing music; singing and playing guitar with my hubby Rob on drums. It’s the best!
I’ve also been painting on guitar pedals for Boss Roland, replicating album art for Canadian bands like Sloan and The Hip. As well, this summer I completed a mural along the Lower Don Trail / Pan Am Path for Pangea Seed and SeaWalls called Love Letters to the Great Lakes focusing on our disappearing native species.
SO: What was the first LP/tape/CD you bought with your own money (or/art book/piece of art, etc…)
EGR: The first tape I might have bought was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and I think one of my first art books was a Jean-Michel Basquiat coffee table book that I lifted. What can I say? Cash was tight. I still have both.
SO: Why do you live where you do?
EGR: I’m super lucky to be living in north Toronto where my partner has built a sound and recording studio in the basement which is amazing. I became a musician living here! I also have both a paint studio outdoors and indoors. We might not be here for much longer so we’ve been recording a lot and developing our sound before our next big move.
SO: Who inspired you to take up art?
EGR: As a young child I had reconstructive hip surgery which put me in casts for months at a time; I spent a lot of time stuck in a chair drawing and watching Sesame Street, which had a huge influence on my upbringing. When I was 4 my little sister passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and I’ve always felt her presence near me, especially when I’m deep in the zone painting or playing music, I can feel a connection with her. She often appears in my paintings as fairies or angels. My songs have her influence as well.
SO: What are your current preoccupations?
EGR: All I want to do these days is to work on music to achieve our sound. As a new musician I’m really trying to get it right. On top of that, my current challenge is the addition of a live art aspect to our musical performance.
SO: Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
EGR: My first thought would be Frida Kahlo but we’d need a translator so I might like to choose Marilyn Monroe who’d be entertaining and sweet and the champagne would flow. I’m not much of a meat eater but perhaps she’s like some homemade mac and cheese.
SO: What was your most memorable day job?
EGR: I never really had a day job other than drawing or painting. While at college for Illustration I loved working at Fabricland because I would make all my clothes. I began making their signs and posters which was sweet but it took time away from my school projects so I quit to focus on school.
SO: What advice should you have taken but did not?
EGR: Stay in school. Between semesters I took a chance and sent my book out and got such a response from The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail newspapers to create illustrations for them that I just couldn’t afford to go back to school. Actually, I don’t regret that at all!
SO: What should everyone shut up about?
EGR: Trump. We all know he’s ridiculous, but as Canadians, what can we do??
SO: Can you tell us about your idea of a perfect Sunday?
EGR: Lounging in my backyard with my cat and my hubby under the canopy of the big, old trees; learning new tunes on guitar, chocolate.
SO: How do you spoil yourself?
EGR: Time in the studio, playing guitar, all I want to do is play music!
SO: What is your favourite journey?
EGR: Visiting Grandma! She plays harmonica and always has new songs. I’ll play with her on guitar and we take turns singing. She’s 90!!
SO: What is your current mood?
EGR: Excited. Lots going on this week and I’m excited to get going!
SO: What person or thing do you most despise?
EGR: The Corporations that control our drinking water for profit and the Governments that allow it.
SO: What is your favourite occupation?
EGR: I love painting with friends, it’s such a dream to paint for a living. It’s truly magical, like playing music with friends. As I said, I’m working on incorporating live artwork into our musical act so stay tuned!
SO: What should people know about you?
EGR: As a teen, graffiti might have saved my life. There definitely were worse things I could have been caught up in, but I had an outlet to express myself when things were crazy at home. Also, I can rap.
SO: What are your favorite TV shows?
EGR: Stranger Things was an awesome and addictive surprise. The Get Down series shows the birth of Hip Hop in a unique way and I really like that. My dad was a working musician as a bass player in a band back in the days before DJs, and I grew up on rock and roll. I always loved DIY culture and making something out of nothing which really is how hip hop came about.
SO: What was the last great movie you saw?
EGR: Downtown 81 by Jean Michel Basquiat who directs and stars in it. A must-watch, it’s amazing. My favourite movies as a teen were Wildstyle and also Basquiat (with David Bowie as Andy Warhol) but when Downtown 81 came out – last year I believe- I was thrilled. The scene, the music, art and graffiti, the fact that they collaborated.. so cool. It’s a time capsule of 80’s counter culture.
SO: Can you recommend a book to our readers?
EGR: Being a wild kid I’ve needed to find my center and these books have helped: The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki because it reminds you of your vital connection to nature and makes perfect sense. Also Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Trunga, even though he was a wino. It also defines the natural order of things while aiming to doing good for the world and for others.
SO: What is your most treasured tool or instrument?
EGR: I have a mechanical pencil from college that I’ve created so many concept drawings with, I feel like it has some magic in it when I imagine new works. Thin tips for spray cans are like gold, without them you can’t get the super fine lines and details. Also my guitar and BOSS Roland loop station.
SO: Who or what makes you laugh?
EGR: My little cat Monte likes to lie around in the funniest positions and even lets you rub her belly. She can even say Hello!
SO: What is your favourite curse word or the phrase you overuse the most?
EGR: Aw, sh*t. I try not to swear, my husband swears enough for the both of us!
SO: What is your dream vacation/trip if money was no object?
EGR: World tour. Island life. Jet skis. Europe. Japan. City stops and exploration. Freedom!
SO: What has been the most significant achievement you’ve had with your work so far?
EGR: Live painting for a few weeks in Florence, Italy was so inspiring, lovely, beautiful and delicious!
SO: Who is the most overrated artist?
EGR: Who am I to judge? There has to be something for everyone.
SO: Who is the most underrated artist?
EGR: Egon Schiele. J Dilla. EGR.
SO: Will Pop eat itself?
EGR: I think Pop already ate itself and pooped out EDM, but in a good way. I think Pop music will always be around like graffiti and tagging will.
SO: What’s next for you?
EGR: Things change from one day to the next but I definitely want to share my new music soon. I’m looking forward to playing with my super talented cousin Jen Benton who’s a professional bass player- she’s amazing!! I’ve got paintings on the go in the studio, and I’ll be painting a mural along the Queen Street alleys in the coming month and plugging away at my interactive performance plans which will have an accompanying art show- might not be until 2017 but you never know!
With thanks to EGR (& Jen Benton!)