Not long before Mike Erickson moved his home and studio out of a large extra room on Dolphin Gallery’s second floor, he allowed us to see the live-work dynamic that had evolved there. In addition to being an artist, Erickson works in the Dolphin’s frame shop, just a flight of stairs down from the room we visited. During his time upstairs at Dolphin, Erickson must have been the most conveniently located artist (in terms of home, studio, day job, and gallery) in America.

This room was made smaller by the fact that it served two purposes in close proximity. One often expects to find the familiar inside someone’s home. On the other hand, one hopes to encounter the unfamiliar in an artist’s studio. Inside this room, both expectations were met and challenged. 

At first glance, we were inside a painter’s studio; paintings stacked and propped against the wall, paintings in progress, paints strewn about. Upon further inspection, surprise came from the hidden unfamiliar; paintings that are in fact, of paintings, such as the large-scale composition entitled, “This is a Painting of a Painting, That From Here On Out I Will Pretend My Friend, The Painter John Wesley, Made Specifically for Me on the Occasion of My 35th Birthday. Thanks John!"

Our project is to deal with the character and quality of an artist’s space, rather than the meaning of the artwork therein, but as I scanned toward the ceiling to find a flatly-painted cutout portrait of “9/11 Mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed bluntly peering back at me, I realized that in Erickson’s case the two subjects are devilishly (and charmingly) intertwined. When I found humor in what I saw—even if I couldn’t explain it—Erickson would reveal uncomplicated delight, “Good, I like that.”

Before we left, I realized that perhaps the greatest collision of familiar and unfamiliar was the broader context—we were in a room that looks and feels similar to the gallery space downstairs. For this reason, everything within the room had the faint appearance of an artist’s installation, which—in a new sense—it was. “Strange, funny…honest,” I thought to myself as I peeked inside Erickson’s tent. Not unlike any midwestern home, it was tenderly arranged and divided into rooms.