For the past eight years nomadic artist Erik Speer has been creating experimental fiber art collages that employ an array of techniques – macrame, crotchet, knitting, felting, weaving, etc. Thoughtfully detailed and expressive, his sculptural “tapestries” are naturally evocative and deeply rooted in his personal narrative. While his road to full time creator was circuitous, it was not without purpose or consequence. Each turn in his path would become an integral component to his artistic practice and his creative outlook.
Born and raised in Roswell, New Mexico, at 15 Speer’s family moved to South Carolina, where a biology teacher would spark what would become a life long fascination with the ocean. She hosted weekend field trips, taking students on shrimp boats and teaching them about river dredging. Shortly after, he did his first open water dive and got his scuba diving license. “It opened up this whole new world that I had never experienced or even thought about,” he says. Though he entered college intending to go into the field of medicine, eventually Speer came to recognize that an office life would not fulfill him. For two years after leaving school he travelled the world as a diving instructor, teaching in countries like Honduras, Croatia, and Malaysia, before moving back to South Carolina and graduating from College of Charleston with a degree in marine biology.
Soon after a restlessness set in that would again alter his trajectory. In marine biology, he explains, “You were either gonna be working on a fish boat in Alaska in the middle of nowhere holding fish counts, or you were gonna be stuck in a laboratory counting plankton samples. And I was like, I can’t do this. That’s not the life I want.” Speer left Charleston and moved to New York City where he attended Parsons for fashion design. Unfulfilled by the hands-off aspect of most fashion design work, he started experimenting with macrame and fiber arts. ‘
Naturally, much of Speer’s inspiration for his work comes from the ocean, with his art as the medium to share his experiences in the water. “I guess that’s kind of how I put together my pieces…trying to recreate that aspect of it and taking fibers and small materials and building it onto each other to make this larger scale piece that feels like it’s complete. It’s like its own organism and its living on its own.” When you look at his work, you see the influence of his diving days: massive wall hangings that resemble coral reefs, knitted and crocheted from wool, interspersed with shapes reminiscent of barnacles and sea urchins made from various fibers and textiles. “Most all of my materials are of natural origin, with wools, silks and linen being my favorites. I strive to use recycled fibers and yarns along with dead overstock and waste material. My main methods of construction include knotting, knitting, crocheting, braiding, and weaving, but I constantly try to push the boundary of what is possible with my media.”
It’s not hard to imagine the state of meditative calm Speer must experience while creating the multitude of components that make up his remarkable tapestries. Perhaps that calm mirrors those underwater spaces that have always captivated him.
Speer currently lives and works in Savannah, Georgia.