FishheadErik Wood


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by Joshua Wood, 1998

Erik Wood (1943-2007) was a self-taught artist in New York City, devoted to his art, to his children, and to
helping people of all ages, abilities, and challenges,create incredible mixed media art.

In the early 1990s, Erik began constructing mixed media reliefs using found objects. Among other things,
he would scavenge old computers and other discarded piecesof technology—like answering machines and
calculators, and break them down for their parts. He called this 'ReTech' for Recycled Technology in Art,
and thiswould become his inspiration for the workshops.

It was Erik's theory that, given a broad selection of contemporary non-traditional materials (from bottle tops
to computer components to zippers), everyone would findsomething that would inspire and enable them
to create unique works of art using the techniques he had developed over time in his own work.

Erik's son Joshua was 9 when he got the idea of creating Fishhead from the shape of the styrofoam.
After constructing it, he learned that 'you can create anything with imagination and strong feelings'.
He said, "Fishhead is not just junk or trash on a board, but a thing of beauty. It has a strong message:
Art can be everything."

When Erik saw what his young son could do, it was all the confirmation he needed. He began in 2001
with school-age children in his neighborhood; then, preschoolers, many as young as three; 'at risk'
children in school and after school at the New York Public Library; children with special needs: physical,
developmental, emotional; seniors with dementia, some as old as 103; patients undergoing palliative care.
Along the way, he also developed programs for executives and corporate team-building.

Utilizing a glazing process he developed (plus loving attention put to every piece), Erik professionally
finished the work so that it was good enough to hang in public spaces. In fact, he had several exhibits of
children's work at The National Arts Clubin Gramercy, including one with 53 pieces done by preschoolers!

Erik died in 2007 after a battle with kidney cancer, but he lives on in his children, his artwork, and the
workshops that I proudly continue to present in his name. As his wife and workshop assistant from the
beginning, I can attest to the success of his vision. These workshops are inspiring, but more importantly,
they level the playing field, enabling everyone from the very young, to the very old, to the physically and/or
developmentally challenged, to create amazing looking art. This is a huge boost to self-esteem, as well as
an ingenius way to exercise both sides of the brain, stretching and strengthening creative thinking.

Since 2001, more than 6,000 children and adults of all ages and challenges, in community-based
preschools, NYC public schools, adult day health care, agencies such as UCP/NYC, corporate conferences,
and more than 60 branches of the NYPL, have created amazing mixed media art in Erik Wood workshops.


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by John, age 4, 201
(typically developing child)

"It's the sea. The whale, the seahorse,
the fish, the sea frog, and the squid
(the purple bottle top and red beads)
live there! The water is blue. The
buttons are the seashells. There's a
purple sun and a white moon.
The zippers are where the people
dive in. The stick is seaweed!

I come to you with all the materials needed: more than 50 containers of assorted items, pre-cut magazine
images, styrofoam 'canvas' boards, individual bottles of glue, watercolor paints and brushes.

Workshops usually have a theme, and I always touch on the idea of environmental awareness, how by
re-purposing materials that would have been discarded and likely placed into landfills, we are helping to
preserve the Earth a bit. My most popular theme is Animal Habitats in which we create scenes of the ocean,
arctic, rain forest, or desert (among others).

After an interactive educational-based discussion utilizing relevant samples that I bring, participants
build their pieces, with the freedomto select 'unlimited' materials throughout the session. When they
have finished building, they use the watercolors to paint the bare spots.

During the painting, I attempt to collect brief narratives, which are transferred onto accompanying signage.
For those who are non-verbal (i.e. speech-delayed, aphasia), and for English language learners, I use other
methods to elicit words, by indication, eye movement, and even the smiles that comes with recognition.
This literacy component to the workshops helps to make the connection between visual ideas and the
written word in storytelling and books, while furthering language skills in a fun and non-threatening way.

The work is glazed and prepared for hanging at my studio using Erik's proprietary finishing techniques,
and all artwork is returned inapproximately two weeks with an accompanying plaque wth the artist's name
and age, and any title or narrative provided to me.I highly recommend displaying and celebrating the
finished work before sending it home! Some organizations have also used thefinished work for fundraising
purposes— on cards for example.

If you are interested in a workshop, I will be happy to make a no-obligation presentation with samples.
The work is very tactile and must be seen in person to be truly appreciated!

Beth Bernett (Wood)


click on images to open pdf files
of Erik's press clippings

NY1 New Yorker of The Week

Uncharted Waters #1

New York Times


In October 2001, an 8 minute profile on Erik,
his work, and his workshops, appeared on
Metro Channel's Gotham TV in an episode
called "Magnificent Obsessions".


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