Canadian artist Erin McGean began her career as a trained illustrator and painter and has transformed her art form into creating analog and digital collages. Over the past several years she has exhibited her art at galleries, sold her artworks to private and corporate collectors, and has had work commissioned by magazines like Elle Canada to name a few.
McGean has described her love of deconstructing images to create something entirely new as her “current ongoing visual obsession”. She studied painting, drawing, and art history at York University in Toronto earning an Honors B.F.A., followed by a B.Ed. from Brock University. She currently resides in Oakville, Ontario where she continues to hone her craft and use conventional collage techniques in combination with digital technology to repurpose found imagery. McGean’s work has evolved as she has evolved and her work can be described as avant-garde, experimental, and innovative, and was greatly impacted by Instagram and social media. Impact Wealth had a chance to sit down with her to learn more about her and her artistic vision.
Impact Wealth: Please tell us how you got started in collage work and about your inspiration.
Erin McGean: I’ve always been an artist, I studied painting and drawing as a student back in university. I painted for a long time, and I had some success as a painter, then I had children and I stopped doing art for several years. Then Instagram happened and I began to see all these people post photos, photos that they had put filters on, and something changed. The photos were a little bit altered and it inspired me to start doing that with pictures of my young children. I began experimenting with a lot of different apps, smartphones were relatively new at the time, and all of a sudden, I was introduced to this world of greater capabilities.
The art I saw on Instagram was inspiring me and it felt like an accessible way for me to create art because I didn’t need to set up my studio and paint tools, it was a whole new process of creating things. The process of making something on your phone with photos that you have, or photos you can obtain, became an easy and accessible way for me to begin creating art again. I joined Instagram very early on; at that time it was a really small community. Instagram was an intimate and somewhat of an artist community. I was able to meet a lot of people both on the app and in real life, have fantastic experiences, and go to different types of events.
Eventually, I got bored with making art with my phone and sort of hit a wall. I realized I was missing the materials I had worked with all my professional life, however, being a painter is very tactile which is something I am not fond of. So, I started editing photos of my work into something that was more in the form of a collage, and this continued to evolve. You can see examples of this evolution on my Instagram stream, it’s all there and visible from my 2011 posts up to today. I began by grabbing a few magazines I had around the house and that kicked everything off.
Now I am pretty obsessed with regular analog collage, cutting up old books and magazines and I am working towards developing digital collages. What I have discovered is that due to the popularity of the NFT (non-fungible token) space, traditional artists are digitizing their traditional art, so I started doing that. But for me, it wasn’t enough to scan a still collage so my first NFTs included animated versions of my collages. I scan them and use different software and apps to add motion and sound. From my perspective, this is a bit more worthy of being in the NFT space. So that’s kind of where I’m at now. I am selling still versions of my collages, and I am animating as well.
Impact Wealth: Where did you get your ideas for your juxtaposition? And how has it evolved?
Erin McGean: Since high school I have always used female figures in my art to symbolize myself, the figures often represent me and my feelings about the things in my life. When I look back at my paintings from high school there was always the presence of a figure that was often in a somewhat lonely, dark, and rather melancholy space. The uncertainty and anxiety of those teen years coincide with how I was feeling when I was making art at the time. When I was having children, I noticed that I used a lot of plants and flowers that came out of these figures, which I guess kind of symbolized a more positive outlook I had in life. Perhaps I was embracing the fertility that I was feeling and my mothering and nurturing side.
I continue in a similar vein, but I am exploring some of the social expectations placed on women. The way we are depicted in my collages is from the use of very old-fashioned images. Part of the meaning that is inherent in my work is the pictures I have used, which I often don’t even alter very much to get a sense of the original photo. I am exploring how women have been depicted in the past, you know as pinup models, and I am exploring ideas around the male gaze, and objectification of women.
Impact Wealth: Can you tell us more about your progress in the NFT space?
Erin McGean: I got into NFTs in 2021 and kind of stumbled into it through an artist community I was part of. I still sell physical pieces of my art and I still hold traditional exhibits, but now I’m selling my art through NF T’s. I often try to pair my physical piece with the NFT so that when people buy the NFT they get a physical collage as well. Another exciting component I recently discovered through the NFT space is the use of augmented reality.
That has been the perfect kind of evolution for me because I have often made animatedversions of my work. I have found applications where I can pair physical and digital art through a phone, you can hold your phone up to a still version and see the animated versions of the NFT. So, it has been a fun way to kind of bridge the traditional art and the NFT world.
Impact Wealth: For those people who aren’t as familiar with the NFT financial structure, how does it benefit collectors and artists?
Erin McGean: For many artists it involves cutting out the middleman. We don’t have to rely on galleries, or someone to represent us and take a commission on our art, we are selling it directly to the collector. Another advantage is if the art resells in the future, we get a percentage of profits set by us. For example, Andy Warhol may have sold a print for $500 and today that same print sells for $5,000,000. He has never seen any of those profits. So if an artist continues in their career, and their work continues to increase in value, they will reap some of the rewards as the value of their previous work increases in value and trades hands.
Impact Wealth: Would the artist only get monetary compensation once it sells and trades hands?
Erin McGean: Yes, most artists will set a secondary market value at 10- 20%. So if someone resells it in a few years for 100 times the value, the artist will get 10-15% of the resale.
Impact Wealth: Is there ever a cap on the number of NFTs an art piece can have? How is that valued?
Erin McGean: You can compare it to an original and editions. An artist may make one NFT which is called minting (publishing a unique digital asset on a blockchain so that it can be bought, sold, and traded), they might have just one version, or they might have an addition of whatever number they want, which would reflect the value just like it does in real-world art.
Impact Wealth: How do you think artists are contributing to driving up the demand and prices of their NFTs?
Erin McGean: Part of this is done by continuing to work as a productive artist who knows that their work will grow in value because they are passionate about what they do. An NFT was meant to be more than just a JPEG file, for example, it could offer membership or come with other things. This is called unlockable content (or bonus content), this could be in the form of a studio visit, the right to the next drop that the artist releases, or perhaps you could have first dibs on collecting the artist’s work. You can attach other things to the NFT that would make it more dynamic.
Impact Wealth: There has been a lot of talk about NFTs and the Metaverse in the art world, are
you involved in that as well?
Erin McGean: Yes, there are several different types of Metaverse worlds being built.
They are a good meeting place for people who cannot geographically come together. This makes art more accessible; you can hold an exhibit in the metaverse and invite people from all over the world. And you’re there in 3D spaces just by looking from a screen on your computer.
You can also get VR goggles and feel like you are in there viewing the art with other people who are actually in the space with you so you can talk to them. The multiplayer metaverse is like a real-life exhibit, it is quite phenomenal.
Impact Wealth: Do you think that this will just change the future landscape for the way art is made and sold?
Erin McGean: I think it will, however, I do not think it will replace everything that exists now. But I think it will offer something different for artists, even when social media came about, that offered a new avenue for artists and that is how I started getting some success.
The ability to sell my art through Instagram and my website changed things. This could be seen as the next level of that. I also think it will affect education because as a teacher I can envision meeting other artists virtually from around the world. It is a chance to explore something new.
Impact Wealth: Which direction do you see your progression as an artist going?
Erin McGean: I want to stay true to my art and continue to make collages, however, the NFT space has opened up new possibilities and has altered my art a bit. I want to try to incorporate new technology into the meaning of the work in a way that makes sense.
Impact Wealth: Moving forward where do you see your source of inspiration? Do you see other mediums being incorporated into your work?
Erin McGean: Not yet, I am still quite tied to my old production. I think a lot of artists kind of lose sight of who they originally came in as, especially when money is involved.
Some artists shift their style to match what is popular in the space. I am trying to stay true to what I have been doing. I look at NFTs as just another way to get my art out into the world to get new collectors.
Impact Wealth: What are your plans for Art Basel, Miami?
Erin McGean: A lot of these things get planned last minute and I am involved in a lot of different
communities within the space. One of them is super rare and is one of the premier platforms where the highest-selling NFTs sell. I am also trying to build a community of collage artists within the NFT space to help elevate them, but also to help promote collages as a medium.
We have seen digital photography blow up within the last year because it is digitally native art. We are collage artists and painters and some of the traditional artists are struggling to find a way to promote or market their art to the NFT space, which is digitally focused. Working with a group of other collage artists, we’re hoping to have an exhibit at Art Basel under a rare umbrella. And, I’ll probably have my work in a few exhibits in NFT NYC. I was in three or four different exhibits there, but they all happened at the very last minute.
Impact Wealth: Are there any artists who have inspired you to become an artist and a teacher?
Erin McGean: Growing up I was inspired by other female artists like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Emily Carr, who you have probably never heard of. Emily Carr is a famous Canadian painter who was involved in the group of seven which I was inspired by. I admired how their work reflected their lives. As I got older, I began studying modern art and was moved by artists like Barbara Kruger. I also admire collage artists Hannah Höch, photographer Carol Walker, and the surrealism of visual artist Man Ray.
Impact Wealth: What projects are you working on for your next exhibition?
Erin McGean: I am pretty obsessed right now with making a series called “GIFs out of GIFs”. What I am doing is scanning several iterations of one collage, and then compiling them in Adobe and adding effects to create a moving version of the collage.
Impact Wealth: There are so many new mediums for artists and collectors. In a place like Art Basel with numerous fairs, how do you wade through all the noise and reach people?
Erin McGean: That’s a tough question. You have to be consistent, and branding is important too. You must define your style so when people are walking through an exhibit and come across your work, it’s immediately recognizable because there is something that sets it apart. In my experience, you must network, get to know people and get yourself out there. That is a constant struggle for any freelance artist because you need to get your voice heard and many artists tend to be introverted. So that’s always a challenge but if you do the networking, build a little community and support group around yourself, you will know that they are promoting your work when you’re not there.
Erin McGean continues to create art from her home in Oakville Ontario Canada where she teaches high school visual arts while raising her family. She is a pioneer in the world of building an NFT community for collage artists and carving out a space in that developing market. She has stated that her inspiration comes from her experiences as a woman and mother and her
lifelong strong connection to the natural world. In her words, her ultimate goal is to “express a sense of peace, solitude, and reverence for nature, while exploring our complex relation to it”, and there is much more for her on the horizon.
By Mosaka Williamson