An Erik Laffer painting is a map of his life. Lines, straight or curving, and small geometric shapes represent people he knows, places he travels, the sounds of raindrops falling outside his studio.
Because they are abstract paintings, viewers can read these “maps” however they wish.
“It’s like looking at a cloud. Not every symbol represents something,” Laffer says.
But to anyone who follows contemporary art in our region, it’s clear that this self-made artist has come a long way in the 12 years since he graduated from Bethlehem High School.
In his early 20s, he was selling his paintings for hundreds of dollars on the sidewalks of New York City. By his late 20s, his artwork was bringing honors.
The Laffer Gallery
WHERE: 96 Broad St., Schuylerville
WHEN: 12 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and by appointment. Today is the last day for “Upstate Artists,” a juried group show. The gallery will be closed but will open by appointment from Monday to Feb. 22. The next exhibit, a Wendy Williams solo show, opens Feb. 23 and runs through March 31, with reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 23.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 695-3181, www.thelaffergallery.com
In Schenectady, there was the Stockade Villagers Outdoor Art Show, where he won first prize in 2009, and second prize in 2008 and 2010. In New York City, he was one of the top-selling solo artists at the 2008 ArtExpo, one of the country’s biggest art shows.
Two years ago, he was juried into the Oakroom Artists, an exclusive artists’ group in the Capital Region, and he will be part of their annual group show from Jan. 27 to Feb. 25 at the First Unitarian Society in Schenectady.
Last year, the 30-year-old Saratoga Springs resident made his mark again.
In June, he opened Laffer Gallery in Schuylerville, after renovating the Broad Street storefront where Michael and Lois Dudley had operated Riverfront Studios.
A fresh and uncluttered white space with a 12-foot-high pressed-tin ceiling, the new gallery represents 11 artists, hosts a rotating calendar of solo shows by nationally and regionally recognized contemporary artists and offers framing in the back of the shop.
“I’m a one-man show. It’s a big learning process,” says the energetic and ambitious Laffer.
The artists represented are Tracy Silva Barbosa, Guillermo Barreto, Yuta Ishino, Laffer, Teri Malo, Jill Fishon-Kovachik, David Millder, Robert Gullie, Charles Bremer, Nick Patten and Regis Brodie.
Closing today is “Upstate Artists,” a group show of 42 works by 22 artists juried by Elizabeth Dubben, exhibit director at Saratoga Arts.
Laffer makes his own paintings in a studio above the gallery.
Stapling a canvas to the wall, he applies modeling paste, then presses burlap onto it. Lines and shapes are carved into the surface with a pizza cutter or a pencil. Then, the color is added, 20 to 30 layers of oil paint applied with a palette knife, bringing the previously invisible lines and shapes to life.
Laffer has shown his paintings at Albany Center Gallery, Remsen Street Studios in Cohoes, Clement Art Gallery in Troy and at Albany’s Amrose Sable Gallery, which closed in 2009.
Laffer was also a gallery assistant to equine artist Celeste Susany when she had a studio in Saratoga Springs.
Q: How did you start showing your paintings on the streets of New York?
A: I got introduced to the New York City scene because of [Saratoga Springs photographer] Lawrence White. He had lived in New York City. He told me to try selling on the street in SoHo. So I packed up one Friday after work, drove down to the city, slept in my car and sold a painting for $800. I did the exact same thing the following weekend. I found myself painting every night, working Monday through Friday at the gallery, and then going to the city. I got to the point where I decided to quit everything I was doing and paint during the day.
Q: What is it like, showing art outdoors in SoHo?
A: On West Broadway, it’s your First Amendment right and your freedom of speech to display your artwork. You get there at 5 o’clock in the morning, first-come, first-served. There are no booths or organization to it. You just set up on the sidewalk. There’s an amazing amount of really talented artists. Maybe 80 or 90 of them that just line the street.
Q: How many years did you do this?
A: About eight years. And for a long time, it was really, really great. I’d sell between three to five paintings every weekend. I was living in Albany above McGuire’s. I would drive my car, leave at 3 o’clock, get there at 5:30 a.m. It was pretty cool. But it was exhausting.
In 2008, when the economy crashed, that whole business took a dive. That’s when I started doing the arts festivals in Florida and in Buffalo.
Q: You do the Allentown Art Festival in Buffalo?
A: Yes, I got first place last year.
Q: And the Florida festivals?
A: I’ve done it for five years now. I drive, everything is in my car. My dad lives in Tampa. I use his house as a base and stay in hotels on the weekend, which is when the art festivals are.
Q: You grew up in Washington County?
A: My dad taught special education and math at Salem. That’s why we moved to the area from Long Island. We lived in Easton, out past Willard Mountain. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and I loved it. It’s a big part of why my paintings are what they are. They have a landscape quality to them. I lived on Beadle Hill Road and there was a panoramic view. Anywhere you are, you’ve got that horizon.
Q: When did you start making art?
A: We moved to Bethlehem in the ninth grade, and they had a great art program. I started taking as many art classes as I could: jewelry, sculpture and ceramics, everything. But academically, I always struggled. After high school, I didn’t go to college. I applied to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and got accepted. But I thought about it and decided that I wanted to paint on my own terms. One thing led to another, a lot of baby steps. This is my passion. This is what I do. I have nothing against college. But it’s not for everybody.
Q: Are there any other artists in your family?
A: I have five brothers and two sisters. We’re all creative in our own way, a lot of entrepreneurs. If they believe in something, they go for it.
Q: You joined the Oakroom Artists at age 28. How did that happen?
A: George Dirolf, he was my art teacher at Bethlehem. He’s part of the Oakroom group. He’s the one who nominated me, and I got in.
Q: Will you do “Upstate Artists” every year?
A: That’s the plan. I’ll have a different juror every year.
Q: Do you collect art?
A: I have a David Miller piece. I have four or five Bob Gullies. Now that I’m doing the gallery, I would like to get a piece from each artist that I represent.
Q: How’s the response to the gallery?
A: It’s been really good. People are coming from all over. The openings get 200 and 300 people. It’s a real good energy.
Q: What’s it like to be the only art gallery in town?
A: I think Schuylerville is up and coming. But it’s off the beaten path. I’d love to be in downtown Saratoga Springs, but the overhead is obnoxious there. I need to start somewhere. Why not Schuylerville? It’s on the river, it’s close enough to Saratoga. It’s a great community.