Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post ran in 2022. We’re publishing this update in honor of our November 2023 exhibition, Down a Long, Dark Corridor, which includes work from Erin Naifeh.
“My shoes are somehow always untied,” confesses Erin Naifeh, who often appears sloshing through their photographic works in a pair of oversized combat boots. Shot in stark black and white, Erin’s autobiographical photos cast the artist as the icon, jester, and director of their own curtain-raising drama.
“The art that comes through me is under the surface,” they write in their pithy artist statement. “I'm drawn to mystery. I'm drawn to desire.” A seasoned filmmaker, Erin—who also works under the pseudonym XP—conducts their photo shoots from the director’s chair, manipulating spare scenes with the flick of a magician’s wrist. Their oil-slick narratives play out in empty, theatrical spaces haunted by cast shadows, bleached funeral pyres, and plenty of horror-movie hair. “I love walking into the night,” Erin explains. “Into the unknown. Into the things that hide.”
Often, Erin is veiled in dark, sopping strands of their own hair. Or they simply turn their back to the camera, teasing us with the half-whispered fragments of a fictional story. Making room for light and levity, Erin’s work is slyly compassionate, a safe place for dark stories to slowly unravel. “I love putting my arms around those things [that hide]” they say, “and carrying them into the light.”
Scroll through to view Erin’s work, then head to our November 2023 exhibition, Down a Long, Dark Corridor, to see their submission, “Marionette.”
In Today's Q+Art Interview…
Erin Naifeh discusses the power of hypnotherapy, creating their first feature film, and why it’s important to color with your own crayon.
What do you wish you learned in art school but weren’t taught?
Erin Naifeh: My first memory of art was in kindergarten. One day our assignment was to color in our coloring books. So I took a black crayon and colored frantically outside the lines. My teacher stormed over and grabbed me firmly by the cheeks and yelled, “You’re not supposed to color outside the lines!” It was frightening. I didn’t fully realize how deeply that moment affected me until a couple years ago when I began therapy. I believe it’s necessary to explore who and why you are. Whether that means coloring outside or inside the lines or on the desk the book is sitting on. Try it all. Find yourself. It’s necessary. We need that not just for ourselves but really for each other. That is something I wasn’t taught in school. To me, that lesson is so important.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
EN: There is a level of awareness I had to understand before I could realize the balance. I have to actively observe myself, listen to my intuition, and to my body. It’s an ongoing regulation. It’s a choice to be balanced. The balance isn’t always 50/50, and that’s balance. It’s going to look different for everyone and also different at certain times. I maintain it by being the observer and honoring my true values. I have to listen to my soul and my body, not just my mind. For me, that really helps!
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
EN: I’m working on creating NFTs. I’m also writing my first feature film that I’m so excited about. It's probably the shortest feature length script ever because it's only three pages long. It's different. It’s something that hasn’t been done before in this particular way. And I'm so excited for it!
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
EN: I regularly go to an amazing hypnotherapist, Donessa Alexander. I’ve been going since 2020. It has completely changed my life in the best way. I am so incredibly grateful for her and the journey. I have so many tools now that I use to feel and heal. On this journey, I realized how important it is to feel your feelings without resistance. That is what Donessa teaches you. I’m appreciative when any emotion arises, even the heavy ones, because I get to clean and heal it. And be free. This is something that Donessa has taught me to do. And it has profoundly changed my life. I also have a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth, Spirit, and other Higher Dimensional Beings. I talk to them. I ask for assistance. I ask how I can be of service back. Sometimes I find myself floating in the unconditioned love of everything. And then sometimes I find myself on the ground and crying. To me, all of this experience is so divinely sacred. This relationship does more than maintain my mental health, it transforms it. It's just so magical.
Is there a specific time you recall feeling marginalized by the art world?
EN: Honestly, I was always the one who had marginalized myself. It was never the art world, even when I thought it was.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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