Through the Woods
    TR Ericsson's innovative works express a new style of loneliness

        The artist TR Ericsson stands in the woods wearing a dark suit. Each of the
    thirteen graphite on paper works on view at a solo exhibit titled “Narcissus” at
    Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Gallery shows him in a slightly different
    position, but with his head always bent, his hand to his ear. This gesture would
    have meant nothing twenty years ago, but now of course we recognize at once
    what’s going on; the guy’s talking on a cell phone. In his distraction, like Dante
    in the opening lines of the “Inferno” as much as like mythical Narcissus ignoring
    the nymph Echo, Ericsson appears to have wandered off the path; in several of
    the pictures he stands knee-deep in weeds, his shins blocked by fallen
        One might think, how ironic, but there’s an atmosphere in these drawings,
    as Ericsson calls them, an air of romance and elegy, that isn’t at all ironic. The
    figure seems not merely self-absorbed but poised at the threshold of another
    world, about to be beamed up, or maybe down, and not because he’s chatting
    with his starship. The vision is too classical, the graphite, forced through a silk
    screen in a laborious, physically taxing process (despite beginning with digital
    files), too cloud-wracked and poetic. The drawings are like photographs, but
    they’ve undergone a transformation, as if at a molecular level -- charged with
    pixie dust, infused with a sincerity that reads as psychically energetic, even
        The artist’s face is all but invisible, blurred and averted. In several of the
    drawings he’s seen at a distance of twenty yards or more, a figure in a
    landscape. Nothing about him is certain, not even his appearance. Questions
    arise. If this person is in some sense Narcissus, where is Echo? Is she the
    photographer? And if not, who is? The works become more mysterious, rather
    than less. Nor does a closer look help to understand how these pieces are
    made; from an inch away or from across the room they are unsolvable,
    partaking equally of photography and the gritty, fire-born qualities of charcoal
    drawing. The seamless mix is visually frustrating, and for that reason slightly
    disturbing. And the mystery of their manner of production gradually lends the
    puzzle of their vantage point more urgency: in fact, who is following this young
    man around, with what intentions? Is he being depicted, spied upon, stalked?
    Ericsson depicts presence from the POV of absence in drawings which drift
    toward cinema in their frame of reference, tinged with the wireless paranoia of a
    brand new style of loneliness. “When?” is not among the questions asked by
    these works; the time is now.

        There’s a back-story here that fills in some of the gaps, and pretty much
    contradicts the apparent narrative content of the drawings. It’s not printed on
    the wall or available in a pamphlet, but it is hinted at in a secondary exhibit of
    Ericsson’s work, also currently on view a few miles away in University Circle at
    the Sculpture Center. Called “Thanksgiving,” that show consists of a five foot
    square, two inch thick absolute black granite slab resting just millimeters above
    the Center’s battered floorboards in a storefront gallery space on Euclid
        If the images of Ericsson at Shaheen show a slightly disheveled young man
    -- formal white shirt untucked, collar open, tie discarded, looking as if he had
    just stepped away from a wedding party, or a funeral, for a moment’s
    conversation with a friend – that’s not far from the mark. Over the past few
    years several deaths in Ericsson’s family culminated in the suicide of his
    mother. In the shadow of this period he asked his sixteen year-old brother to
    take a few digital shots of him wandering in the woods. In a recent conversation
    the artist told me he forgot all about the camera on that late summer afternoon
    as he got lost in a long conversation with a friend who had troubles of his own.
        Audiences peer down at the inscription on the stone like Narcissus gazing
    into his pure woodland pool. Etched on the polished granite are a thousand or
    so words of text, completely filling the dark stone surface. The word-for-word
    transcription of a 1993 letter Ericsson’s mother wrote to him after he left home
    to go to New York gives an account of the family Thanksgiving, conducted in
    his absence. It quickly becomes clear that the young Ericsson was lucky to
    have missed this particular occasion. Like a scene from an Edward Albee play,
    Mrs. Ericsson’s description of the car ride with her parents to dinner at her
    brother’s house is a sharply drawn sketch of the way family members ignore,
    misunderstand, abuse, blame, and hold one another responsible for the pain of
    living. We recognize all this from our own experience, to a greater or lesser
    extent; it seems only appropriate to see our images floating in the dark stone
    behind the bitter words. And yet the letter ends on a nearly upbeat, defiantly
    loving note: “Be happy and carefree forever = Do it your way and tell the rest to
    shut up. Love Always.”
        Ericsson makes work about people, places and things that aren’t there –
    which is what every work of art does, but rarely with such active fidelity; his
    drawings don’t seem so much like windows cut out of the walls of the present,
    but like electronic screens buzzing with a presence of their own -- not a view but
    a rival perspective. It’s difficult to finish looking at an Ericsson piece, perhaps
    because his work seems, like Narcissus, to be busy with its own, very private
    agenda; every work, every object is careless of the observer and cruel to the
    advances of desire, but Ericsson finds ways to intensify such estrangement.
    After reading his mother’s letter twice, and regarding the way the tomb-like slab
    expanded under the eye, a pond full of words not rectangular as most human
    memorials are, but square, like the foundation of a pyramid, I slipped back into
    my own mind unobserved and walked away, as if I had gone skinny dipping in a
    different life.