Piecing Together a Story with Collage Artist Erin Adelman Rice
Our gallery show, Superbloom by Erin Adelman Rice, is one that the Rare Device family is extremely proud of because Erin used to work here! Erin wore many hats as a team member when she was hired in 2016, but at the time of her departure earlier this year, she was the Rare Device Operations Manager, ensuring that the store worked like a well-oiled machine.
During her time at Rare Device, Erin participated in our annual employee shows over the years and we've watched her process develop, change and blossom into incredible works of art that audiences gravitate to, love and admire. Her ability to re-create imagery and evoke storytelling through collage has been awe-inspiring.
We were so excited when Erin invited us to view her home studio in the Sunset district on a chilly, sunny day in February. Erin shared with us her collection of magazines that she's acquired through estate sales and flea markets, some works in progress from her upcoming show Superbloom, and some chocolate-covered almonds. We talked about material collecting, not making anything too precious, and how organizing and collaging are similar.
Rare Device: Let’s talk about your artistic journey. Have you always practiced collaging? Have you ever ventured into another medium?
Erin: Collage really has been my thing for a long time; I remember loving cutting out images from found materials and manipulating them from before I was 10. But I also tinker with lots of art forms. I take photos, and sometimes draw and paint with watercolors and acrylics, but it’s never given me the same satisfaction that collage does. In high school, I took stained glass and I did enjoy that, just not all the fumes that came with it. And I also love sewing and creating things with fabric. I think you could say that stained glass and sewing is just collage with glass or textiles instead of paper, though! I really love mediums that work with very defined lines and edges.
RD: Let’s talk about materials: what are you looking for when piecing images together? Do you usually have themes before you start the hunt OR do themes naturally arise while you’re collecting images for collages?
Erin: I start with hunting through vintage books and magazines for inspiration and the themes tend to emerge from what I find and where I’m at in my life at the time. I especially love doing collections or bodies of work rather than one offs, since that helps me with structure and kind of telling a story. I will often find a collection of magazines from an estate sale and to me that collection tells a story about what that person consumed at the time, both information and objects, and I’ll take images that fit with that. However, I might come back to the same collection a year later and see it in a different way and use images that I’d previously disregarded. But honestly, I can’t look at mid-century magazines without themes of misogyny, xenophobia, unbridled capitalism, and environmental destruction slapping me in the face. That’s where I start to look for images of nature and large swaths of color to transform those themes.
RD: How are the pieces in your show Superbloom different from other pieces you’ve created?
Erin: They’re certainly exploring themes and styles that I’ve been working with for a while, but they are talking to each other in a new way and, to me, have a different feeling. I’m working with some new colors and also a bigger scale than in the past. Stretching my legs a bit here and I kind of feel that’s what the subjects are doing, too.
Erin's pieces from her first employee show at Rare Device, Verdantly Still
RD: What’s your process like? How long does a piece usually take from start to finish? What is the most challenging part about creating each piece?
Erin: It’s hard to say how long each piece takes since it really is a long process with many steps. I first hunt through images that I’ve been holding on to and that are new to me, just cutting them out roughly and collecting them together to be able to see similarities and differences. I consider how many pieces I’d like to make and how they’ll work together, then I map out the foundations of the pieces, the colors and the bigger picture compositions. I create the backgrounds with the images in mind and how they’ll work together. Then things get granular. I take the images that I’ve roughly cut and isolate them, cutting out all background or overlapping objects and just leaving the subject. And then finally I assemble them, considering size, color, and overall feel.
The most challenging part is getting past the fear of ruining what I’m working on. I’ve had to throw away so many images that I’ve been so excited to use that I cut wrong or attached not quite right and were past salvaging. It’s just part of it, though! I leave myself room for error now, cutting out more images than I need, and it’s been a lesson in not making things too precious in my mind. Even though the materials are old, there are still so many out there and I’ll never run out. I don’t ever use anything that wasn’t mass produced and people really do hoard them. Knowing when a piece is finished is also really challenging. And not spilling my constant collection of beverages all over everything.
Erin using her vintage label maker, something she often uses for organizing jobs.
RD: You have you own organization business. There’s something about collaging and organizing that are related; perhaps making sense of different parts separately, and having them work harmoniously in the same space. Have your two worlds as an artist and an organizer ever collided? Do skills in one benefit the other?
Erin: Yes! They definitely feel connected to me, in the way you mentioned and more. Certainly they’re both seeing objects in an isolated way, separating it from the clutter around it, and seeing new opportunities for them. And, yes, harmonizing (I love how you used that word!) different things in the same space. They’re both very visual and visceral practices. I get a very similar sense of satisfaction when I find just the right way to arrange a drawer and just the right flowers and placement for a collage.
And also I love old things and the stories they tell. Many organizers are minimalists and push clients to get rid of as many items as possible, but I love getting to see how people connect to their favorite things and finding places to feature the items that inspire them. Of course, if something isn’t serving them then it doesn’t deserve to be in their lives and we donate it to someone else or dispose of it in a responsible way, in the same way that I enjoy separating all these ladies from the sexist copy, expectations, and other problematic contexts that are holding them back. So many people keep old magazines that they think will be worth something someday (they probably won’t be) and never look at them, they just sit in a corner collecting dust and they’re often sold at estate sales for very little. Making these collages is a way for me to pull out my favorite parts of the historical clutter and allow them to be seen and appreciated instead.
I do believe that I’m using similar skills in both practices and I’ve been told by my clients that my sense of color and aesthetics brings a lot to my organizing services. I’ve always been a very tactile and observant person and I’m very sensitive to my environment. I’m neurodivergent and a Taurus with basically all earth in my chart and it feels related to me.
I do bring collage into my organizing practice sometimes. I’ve collaged labels and I sometimes use my vintage labelmakers which play a part in my art. Also, my first organizing business cards were hand-collaged! These days, in an effort to be more authentic and also simplify my life, I’m bringing the two worlds together more intentionally. I have yet to organize a client’s space with my artwork hanging in it, but that would be really touching.
RD: Is there a particular collage that is your favorite from this collection?
Erin: They’re all my babies! But I am especially excited about the orange and pink pieces. It’s a color combination I’ve never used and it makes me feel especially alive.