Derek Erdman has certainly made a name for himself in Chicago (and beyond) over the years. His often-hilarious paintings of politicians, athletes and celebrities has landed him the "pop artist" classification, but if you take a good look at the 36-year-old's massive portfolio, you would rethink putting him in any sort of box.
He paints, draws, blogs, makes prank phone calls, researches strange fascinations with the Insane Clown Posse, contributes to the Chicago Reader among other publications and is moving to Seattle next month where he has even more work lined up.
Before he leaves town, Erdman spoke to HuffPost Chicago about his work, the Midwest and an unsavory Rod Blagojevich sighting. His final Chicago solo exhibition, titled "WITHOUT WAX: 14 Years of Derek Erdman in Chicago," takes place on August 14 at High Concept Laboratories. We strongly suggest checking it out.
How long have you been making art in Chicago?
I started in 2002 or so, but I didn't really try to make a living doing it until 2006. It was then I decided that a person can do anything that they want, as long as they're financially responsible. I started painting because I found a cut-out painting of a sheep in a stairway of an apartment that I was living at in Pilsen. I took the sheep and the next day there was a sign asking that the sheep be returned. I decided I would make one that looked exactly like it and figured out how to do it. Then I found a book of English / Spanish translation at a small store on 18th street that featured the drawings of Tom Tierney, and I started making paintings of the images in the book to sell during Pilsen art walks. Eventually I learned to draw things myself and make paintings in more efficient ways.
Many of your paintings feature celebrities. Who are your favorite celebrities to paint? Why do they make good subjects?
I prefer to paint b-list celebs from the past, so it's special when somebody recognizes them. I'd be mortified if I ever found myself painting somebody as vile as Tom Waits or Johnny Cash. I'd prefer to paint Clara Peller (the "Where's The Beef" lady) or Lamar Noid (who thought Pizza Huts' "Avoid The Noid" campaign was directed at him and took pizza employees hostage
demanding $10,000 and a copy of the book The Widow's Son as ransom.) Somewhat current celebs are okay too, like that astronaut who drove across the country wearing diapers to wreck a relationship. That's wonderfully interesting to me. Sometimes somebody will ask me to paint somebody boring and I'll do it. You know, for the money. I have no qualms doings things just for money. I used to deliver pizzas in college for money. I want to stay true to my roots.
Word on the street (or on your blog) is that you are moving to Texas. Why the move?
Oh, I'm going to Seattle. I've made such a big deal out of moving that it's starting to annoy even me. I had planned on going to Texas, but it's so hot there. There's a ton of people in Seattle that are excited for me to move there, and I'm really excited to be in a place where I've already made a lot of real friends. I've always had a wonderful time when visiting there and I think I'm going to do some things with The Stranger, which is such a great weekly. I'm also going to do a radio show on Hollow Earth Radio that will be a combination of psychic advice hotlines and interviews with people on the telephone. I really love to talk on the telephone. I've been in the Midwest for 9/10ths of my life and at this point I absolutely hate the snow. Drizzle I don't terribly mind, but I hate the snow. I'm having an art show on the 14th of August at a place called High Concept Laboratories. There will be 1,000 paintings and 1,000 drawings and hot dogs with fortunes in them and 20 pounds of gummi bears. Everything will be for sale, really cheap. (Check out a preview of the show here.)
What will you miss most about Chicago?
Mostly my friends and how easy it is to live here. The Midwest makes a lot of sense in my brain, I hope I'll be able to adapt to how people think in the Pacific Northwest. I don't really like to hike, I'm kind of a homebody. Plus I'll guess there aren't a lot of Juggalos in Seattle, and I've been the Midwest spokesperson for them ever since I went to their giant festival last year. I've done three radio interviews in the last week about those loveable clown teens. I don't think
I could listen to that music on a regular basis, but I'd certainly hang around a bonfire in the woods with that crew, throwing our crummy stepfather's golf balls and spray paint cans into the fire. You can't do that kind of thing in Seattle, I reckon they'd run you right out of town.
What do you think is next for Rod Blagojevich?
Well, I'd guess he's going to spend some time in the clink. Hopefully there he can team up with Willie D from the Geto Boys, who recently got caught in some sort of eBay iPhone scam, and they can make a Political Gangasta Rap record about taking people for a ride. I'd download that record, no doubt. My friend Sheila lives near Blagojevich's house and a few years ago we saw him in his front yard in a kiddie pool. That guy has so much hair on his chest and he was eating a hot dog, it was gross. People need to wax it. There was ketchup on the hot dog.
Check out some of Derek's work below, and there is much, much more here.