This season at ArtWell, we have an exciting inspirational new voice joining our teaching artist team. Eric Battle will be partnering with poet and ArtWell veteran, Angel Hogan in teaching at the Durham branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. Through Hogan’s poetry and Battle’s drawing, students will become creative storytellers, sharing personal narratives and envisioning new, peaceful stories for their community. Battle is an illustrator who grew up in West Philadelphia, attended the University of the Arts, worked on graphic novels and comic books with publishers, including DC and Marvel Comics, and collaborated with award-winning science fiction author Nnedi Okorafor.
Jeremy: How long have you, as an artist, been making art?
Erik: I’ve been an artist for a while. I was a graduate from University of the Arts in an illustration program. Primarily, I’ve done children’s book illustrations, editorials, some fashion; the main focus has been graphic novels and comic books. I’ve worked with Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and a whole bunch of other different publishing companies, and part of my component with the workshops with ArtWell will be to show the kids how I collaborate with writers and poets. Angel and I, we’re looking forward to showing how those collaborations can work. When a writer and an artist are in sync with one another, some really fabulous projects can come from that. I’m just looking forward to putting some visuals to Angel’s writing and hopefully getting the kids to spark their collaborations with one another.
Jeremy: You’ve talked a little bit about this, but what is your personal background in art and how would you explain your connection to art as a healing mechanism?
Erik: My background in art. I’ve been drawing for a good while. I grew up here in West Philadelphia, and in the area where we were living at the time, I think that my mom just noticed that while my two sisters were playing outside, I would be in the house drawing. She took notice to what my interests were and really helped foster me continuing to do the art work. She would sign me up for art classes around the city with University Arts League and that sort of thing. For me, art has just always been about . . . everything. When I’m not actively sitting at my drafting table working on a piece of art, I’m always looking for a way to be connected to the arts somehow. I often look for teaching opportunities to share what I know, and the main part of that is to teach anyone anything. It makes you recognize and put together a structure of what you do know so that you can impart that information to anyone else. I really like sharing that information and showing what kind of opportunities are out here for artists. Art in its various forms, it’s important that everyone have access to some sort of creativity and learn how to access their own creativity. I think it colors how you view all this other information we’re being fed by the media, the environment. When you look at it from another perspective, it gives you a clearer view of everything. We’re all a part of this thing together, finding our place in it. You can help someone else find their place, because surely someone is helping you find yours. You know, art, you gotta have it.
Jeremy: This goes a little along the lines of what you were talking about, but in terms of youth, why do think teaching art to youth is powerful or inspirational?
Erik: Yes, it’s extremely empowering. With the lack of art programs, as they’re being taken out of schools, their imaginations are being stunted and cut off. You can show them things beyond what they’re being taught in schools and really let them know how to turn an idea into something tangible. When they come up with an idea, it might sound crazy at first, but that’s how so many things get created in the first place. Never discount your own ideas. It’s something that may seem a bit crazy to you at one point, but someone may take that idea and turn it into something that changes the world. The world is a huge place. If you don’t even have the vision to look beyond where you are at present, that’s all you’ll know; that’s where you’ll be stuck; you’ll think this is all there is. It’s too much out here for you, but you can’t be fearful of stepping outside your comfort zone and all those things. They tend to have a bit of recklessness fearlessness because an idea pops into your head, and you say, “hey, I’m going to grab a canvas or I’m going to hop on stage; I’m going to grab a microphone,” and it’s like, I’m going to do this. It teaches you how to take criticism. [There are] so many important things kids learn to deal with, or, sometimes, they don’t learn how to deal with them effectively, but artists tend to be the kids who, the popular kids say, “they dress funny” or “they act funny,” but they’re marching to their own beat, and it’s not about peer pressure and trying to fit into anyone else’s mold of who they think you should be, so it takes all kinds. Let’s get it done [laughs]. So that’s where it is.
Jeremy: This last question is about you, do you have any upcoming projects or exhibits or readings, well, you do more visual arts, but are you working on any projects right now?
Erik: Yeah, I’m working on a few that I’m really, really excited about. I recently finished a project with an award-winning author. She won the 2011 World Fantasy Award, and that’s like winning the Oscars in the literary science fiction field. Her name is Nnedi Okorafor. So I just finished a project with her where she’s got a novella coming out, and it’s called African Sunrise. I provided a couple of illustrations for that, and we’re looking to expand that story and do a few more collaborations together. I’m also working on a project with a professor over at Penn. I’m looking to start showing some of that art also. The thing is here in Philadelphia, I’ve been able to collaborate with some really prolific and amazing writers here in the city. A writer who used to live out here in West Philly – her name is Leslie Esdaile Banks. She wrote under a couple different pseudonyms. She used to write the Vampire Huntress novel series under the name L.A. Banks, but she passed away last year. I really had the great fortune to collaborate with her on her novels and putting some really exciting visuals to her work and part of my ongoing project for myself is to keep her works in people’s sights. I’ve been working on a few things with some of the characters that she created, again, just constantly coming up with new images for some of the characters. I’m working on another graphic novel project with a media company, and hopefully by, I would say within, at least by the end of this year, I’ll be able to show some of it.
Jeremy: What is it about?
Erik: One of the graphic novel projects, it’s basically promoting literacy overseas.
Erik: Again, that’s one of the other things that I’ve really been trying to focus on with some of the art work is promoting literacy, here and abroad. That’s why it’s really important. I was really excited about making those connections here at ArtWell, working with writers and making those collaborations happen.
Jeremy: Yeah, and I feel like Philly is a good place for it. I’m so new to it, but it already seems like there’s something about it. It seems like if people are dedicated to an art or arts or different sort of varieties of it, people are so willing to work on it with you. It’s really exciting.
Erik: There’s a lot of stuff going on.
Jeremy: Yeah, there’s a lot of energy. It really induces a lot enthusiasm. It’s really great. I love it. Well, thank you! It was great meeting you.
Erik: And thank you.