Ethan D’Ercole has circled the creative wagons, conjured art in various mediums, and toured the country playing in bands like Watchers, Mannequin Men, and Bedfellows. He’s one of these people that can’t help themselves when it comes to making new things, and the Chicago art scene is better for it.
His style is playful, unassuming, colorful, and fun. There’s an accessibility about his use of color, and his background in architecture is evidenced in nearly every gig poster or print he produces. In the vein of all the hardworking creative entrepreneurs this city is home to, Ethan D’Ercole is equal parts creative inspiration and consistent production.
Whether his first Xerox flyers years ago, his move to screen printing, or the many rock concerts he’s played throughout that time, Ethan’s work and artistic career is a testament to the evolution on offer for insatiably creative minds with solid work ethic.
Ahead, we tackle flyers, screen prints, live music, and everything in between.
Evan: You’re an everywhere man… music, art, chinchillas… give our readers a rundown of all the cool creative stuff you’ve been a part of!
Ethan D’Ercole: A lot of rewarding experiences came via the bands I’ve been a part of (Watchers, Mannequin Men, Bedfellows, Hot Lava…). In 2003 and 2005, my band “Watchers” backed James Chance for a bunch of Midwestern shows. In 2006, I played a one-off show in Lyon, France as Jody Harris’ replacement in the Original Contortions lineup. I backed Gary Burger of The Monks, playing banjo, and Mannequin Men were the sole support for The Clean in 2010. My bands provided me the outlet for my visual art too – I’ve designed album covers and countless gig posters. The art and music evolved together.
In 2016 I designed the Elmhurst Art Museum show “Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists, and Chicago.” It was the culmination of my interests, arranging color and space in a gallery filled with pinball and major works by Karl Wirsum and The Chicago Imagists. My friend Dan nNadel, who curated the show, told me “think of it as one of your posters.”
That’s awesome, man. So cool when it all comes together in that way. A lot of what IPaintMyMind does centers around presenting relevant and accessible artwork in spaces it typically isn’t shown in. For us, it’s all about creating more of those moments when someone is moved by creativity and wonders what else is possible. What was one of those mindbending moments you had interacting with art as a kid? Anything stick out in your mind as a moment that made you think you could make art or be creative too?
I’ve always had an interest in drawing and building things, and when my teachers gave me the opportunity to do both, I really excelled. In 6th grade I built a castle from clay & balsa wood, getting really lost in the details with color and foliage. It was something I would have built even if it wasn’t a school project. I guess I always knew I could be an artist because I enjoyed making art, and people often reacted excitedly to things I made.
Feedback is so important! What are some of the best concerts you’ve ever been to?
The concerts that immediately come to mind are:
The Real Kids (classic lineup) at The Middle East in Boston – NYE 1999.
Keith & Tex at Chicago Reggae Fest – 2016.
The Skatalites (original lineup) at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis – 1993.
Stooges (raw power era reunion) at The Riviera – 2010.
Phil Cohran at Millennium Park – 2008.
Superchunk / Dinosaur Jr/ My Bloody Valentine at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill – 1992.
Pixies/ Pere Ubu at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill – 1991.
Fugazi, anytime in the 90’s!
Your about page says you made the switch from Xerox flyers to screen-printed posters. Tell us more about that pivot to screen printing.
Xerox flyers are an artform in themselves, but I wanted to make flyers that looked like architectural renderings, and screen printing allowed me to work bigger, with more color.
Are you one of these guys that loves the actual process of screen printing, or are you more focused on the creation of the original artwork?
I really love every aspect of image making, but screen printing is mostly “process.” I’ll spend a couple hours on the drawing that will map out color and composition, then a few weeks cutting color separations. after that comes burning the screens, color mixing, and printing. I love the whole process when things don’t go wrong, but that’s never the case! I’m happiest when the final print captures the look and feel of the original idea.
What advice would you give a kid in art school who thinks they want to make art a career? What have you learned throughout your career that has helped you achieve the success you have in music as well as visual art?
Do your own thing, be inspired by your influences but never imitate them. Challenging opportunities often become the most rewarding and memorable experiences. Don’t pass them up! Everybody has their own agenda, so don’t take criticism to heart.
Who inspires you? Doesn’t need to be an artist.
Lee Dorsey, the (Dutch) outsiders, Judas Priest, Songwriters, Hans Scharoun, Gerrit Rietveld, Bruce Dern, C.H. Dewitt.
How does your educational background in architecture inform your current work, if at all?
Besides informing the general theme of my work, which often is “people occupying the built environment,” architecture school taught me a lot about economy – how to make the most from the least. I’m always thinking about how I can best arrive at/convey the idea in my head using just the right balance of color. How I can most simply imply depth, how to best juggle scale. I also learned about economy from being a musician – the poster budget is always the last concern. While this is all fine and dandy, I’ve always wanted to be the art student that makes images by any means necessary.
What have you been working on lately?
I just finished an eight-color lp cover for “Smokin’ Ziggurats” and a five-color print for the 2018 Barn Dance Apocalypse. On deck are two “23 x 23” Washington D.C. cityscape prints, a couple reprints, and major renovations to my workspace. I’ll also be showing some of my work at Ursa, a gallery and boutique in Milwaukee, in early June.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve done? Why?
My favorites are spacious pieces that hide small stories within a larger story. “busy bee” (2014) is about my life as an artist in Chicago. I arranged old gig posters, apartments, and former places of employment against Chicago skyline. “the mall” (2014) is an ode to shopping malls of my youth, and includes memories of absurd retail stores and fads along with signage wordplay and jokes about friends. the prints work well because every little piece relates to the whole. the initial ideas were strong, and I enjoy mining the depths of my memory for inspiration.
What is one thing you’d like to see the city of Chicago do for working artists?
I’ve seen so many incredible art spaces shut down over the years, often because they don’t have a permit, or because of real estate speculation. It’s a very complex issue and there’s no easy solution, but it’d be great if the city offered more legal support for artists. Art is culture, and to some extent, should be protected.
That’s a great idea. How can people purchase your work?
People can see (some of) my work at ethandercole.com and email is the best way to reach me for purchase inquiries – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name a few artists that our readers should go check out right now.
There are a whole bunch of great artists working here in Chicago, too many to name names!