Creative potential behind Wildscapes: An Interview with Ehren Fritz Gerhard

A child who loved drawing.

Lilidiana Cruz: In your experience, how does a child who travels a lot become an artist like Ehren Fritz?

Ehren Fritz Gerhard: It started growing up, my parents traveled a lot. Either would it be, vacations or, driving to visit relatives and things like that, seeing different places, different cultures, even if it’s just, a different state, seeing how different people live in different parts. I lived in four different states growing up. Every four or five years, my parents moved almost like a military child, but really just following jobs for my parents, following work and things in school…

Living in lots of different areas and not growing up in the same household, influenced me to find, a sense of place where I live. I like to learn about the culture, learn about the history, get involved in where I lived, getting outside, mostly learning about the nature and experiencing that nature. I grew up going in caves underground as a small child, four or five years old and throughout some of my early youth , doing camping, being on the water, canoe trips, fishing and things like that , all sorts of different parts of the country.

Lilidiana Cruz: What else led you down the path of the plastic arts to represent the world you perceived? What was the trigger?

Ehren Fritz Gerhard: I’ve always loved drawing, just the act of using my hands. That’s probably primarily the main influence or, the contributing factor, but endless support from family members too to do what I was naturally good at.

I did a lot of ceramics as well in college and in high school, I had to took a wheel home. My teachers gave me a wheel from the studio to take home and clay over the summer. So I always did a lot of sculpture too. But there’s something about the image, the two dimensional image and how being able to create something on that flat piece of canvas or paper or whatever it is with my own hands. I use photography and other mediums as a way to support media. So it’s good to know to do all those things because it helps to influence the work. But really, it’s just wanting to use my hands with the feeling of a paint brush mixing the paint. I build my own stretcher bars and canvas, stretch canvas and just so I do all those elements of it. That was probably the main push of just really having to decide on one medium.

Some stories turned into paintings.

Lilidiana Cruz: What has been your most dangerous experience in the wild?

Ehren Fritz Gerhard: I used to do a lot when we lived out west in Arizona, would go out and do a lot of camping in wilderness, in areas where there’s no nobody else.Which is what was nice about it, but it’s also dangerous. Some of the things that in Arizona that I’ve had where we camped, we slept in a hole and a rock face, in the face of the canyon wall, it’s like where the Navajos and Pueblos would build cliff dwellings up in the rocks. But it wasn’t a cliff dwelling. It was just an open hole in a rock where you could fit just enough to lay down. We had a campfire in there as well. It sloped down right after the campfire and it was all rocks and gravel. I had two friends with me, we drew a line and we said, don’t go past this line because you may fall off of this cliff down 1000 ft. One of the friends reached for a piece of wood over there and he started sliding and his brother caught him and then I grabbed the other friend and we pulled him back up! Wow, that was…! I tend to try and keep it pretty safe. I try not to put myself in the situation.

Another time was a flash flood, which is common out west if it’s raining, it will flood really quickly in a canyon. I was hiking with my wife and two of our friends and we were down at the bottom of the canyon. And there’s a, a typical sound that happens when a flash flood is happening. It sounds like a freight train, like a big locomotive coming down. That’s what you hear. First is this roaring thunder. We were down in the bottom of the canyon and we heard the noise and we quickly ran, scrambled as fast as we could to get out. The flood didn’t get very high. It maybe rose a foot or so, but it was still terrifying.

Another time we were hiking, these are all with other friends camping.We were at a different location up and there was really thick woods and it was also open areas.It was night time. We went for a night hike. It’s something that we’ll do after dinner and go hike with flash lights out in the woods and look around. Two of our friends wanted to keep going further and further and we said, no, no, no, it’s too dark in there! You can’t see anything, you can’t know where you’re going. Well, they kept going and see. Just a second later they were gone. We couldn’t hear them. They just disappeared ,we went back to the car, we couldn’t find them. We were yelling and had the horn on the car all night. Every hour I would get up and beat the horn. They never came back all night and, they had quite a story when they got back but they did finally make it back at sunrise, that was pretty, pretty close to a bad ending there.

Lilidiana Cruz: Wow!, you can write a book with those stories too!

Ehren Fritz Gerhard: Some of them have turned into paintings, or drawings, certain areas that I visited a lot. You get those stories of going back to a place and doing lots of things to get those experiences which help reinforce the themes in the work.

Some of the Florida things, those paintings, the wilders, the Happehatchee ones, the really thick jungle ones, the darker ones: we lived in this old growth forest and you’d go out on our porch to this little shack, a stilt house on the river in a estero and you would hear armadillos in the woods and they sound like a axe murderer walking dragging their leg like a horror movie. They’re so loud, rustling the leaves and everything. If you don’t know what it is, it’s absolutely terrifying.

One time it was at night and we had the flashlight out. Armadillos can’t see very well or hardly at all in it. But they can feel vibrations like a turtle can and it was this armadillo coming, it was like running right at me and it wasn’t stopping and it was just coming straight towards me and then I stomped my foot and it felt the vibration in the ground and it jumped up and ran away.

The most interesting thing is the little things that are learned. Like, some people who have grown up in Florida aren’t really scared of alligators. Most other people in the cities that come down on vacation are absolutely terrified. They all, they only eat at night. It’s fine. They won’t mess with you. As long as they’re not being fed, there’s nothing to worry about, which it’s always still nerve wracking., but when you hear the stories…

I like to know, get to know the local people that live there and hear their opinions of things and how they see it because you learn a lot of, they’ve seen it often, they see it every day.

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