NEW YORK—If you found Eric March through his paintings, you’d be taken by his lyrical depictions of the city. If you found him through his graphic design, you’d be impressed by his precise eye. And if you found him through his illustrations, you’d be surprised at the wide range of his styles.
Eric March is, not necessarily listed in order of importance, a fine artist, illustrator, art instructor, graphic designer, husband, and new father.
Except for his teaching, the rest of this list is centered in March’s Long Island City studio—which is not the stereotypical concrete loft, but a small room in his apartment.
March thinks deeply about the cultural impact of his work and what makes good art. This side of him isn’t always apparent—he comes off as a friendly, earnest man, animated, and quick to laugh.
March seems to experience the world with keen curiosity and good humor, traits that often reveal themselves in his paintings. Some of them celebrate places New Yorkers know and love, some take us to the city’s less-traveled underbelly, and others offer a quirky take on the familiar.
Hailing from Libertyville, Ill., March arrived in New York City in 2001, a month before the September 11 attacks. After 9/11, the art world was shocked into a silent spell, March recalls, but that didn’t discourage him.
He made connections with other realist artists, studied privately and at the prestigious Art Students League, and explored the city. The latter would prove to be key to his career.
The Power of Place
March biked all over Brooklyn—Prospect Park, Coney Island, even desolate industrial areas—and painted the entire way.
“I thought of it as understanding the city and understanding my place in the city. And when you’re out painting on the street, people walk up and say, ‘Hey, did you know that building used to be a theater?’”
These experiences lead to his first solo show 2006, A Brooklyn Year, at the Park Slope Gallery. During the two years that he spent creating works for this show, he witnessed ways in which the city constantly transforms.
“I was working on a painting of a power plant in Brooklyn, left for a while, and when I came back half of it was gone; they were taking down the chimneys! And that happens all the time in New York. I don’t go out to paint historical paintings, necessarily, but they become historic because the city changes so much.”
Everything March learned about New York while in the field added to his appreciation of places as they evolve, something he seeks to bring out in his work.
In “Hymn for the General Slocum,” 2012, the sun sets over the Hell Gate bridge, near the spot in the East River where the PS General Slocum caught on fire and sank in 1904. It is bathed in golden light; steeped in slow, glorious reverie.
That incident killed 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board. It was the largest single loss of life in New York before the 9/11 attacks.
“In the city there’s always these echoes with the past and with the present,” March said. “There’s all these connections that reveal themselves in physical ways. As an artist I’m tapping into the physical manifestation of it.”
March comes from a long studio tradition. He paints realistically, abiding by classical principles of form and composition. Stylistically, he looks to the past, but his subject matter is very much in the present.
“My work is contemporary—I’m a contemporary artist,” he said. “And I get to define what that means. My training and style is based on a long studio tradition. And I want to craft something today that’s relevant, and new, and personal.”
He draws inspiration from a wide variety of artists, from the European masters to Norman Rockwell to the abstract expressionist Franz Kline.
When March came to New York, artist friends in other parts of the country told him he was lucky to have arrived when realism was regaining recognition. For decades, galleries ignored realism in favor of modern movements.
“It’s very broad—what’s art these days, which I have two minds about,” March said. “[On the one hand,] why not crack it wide open? On the other hand a lot of stuff passes that shouldn’t. I think we should have a high standard. It shouldn’t get a pass just because it’s new or different. It has to be good, regardless of what it is.”
“I spend a lot of time in the Met and teach a copyist class there. You look at the level in those galleries and that’s aspirational. No matter what medium I’m working in, I should aspire to the greatest that I see.”
Teaching New Talents
Whether in front of a canvas or in front of a class, March tries to hold himself and his students to that same high standard.
March has been teaching since 2009, and started teaching oil painting and drawing at the National Academy School in 2011. The National Academy School (www.nationalacademy.org) is a fine arts school and museum. It was founded in 1825 by artists and architects including Thomas Cole, Rembrandt Peale, and Asher B. Durand.
The school welcomes artists of all levels, from hobbyists to working artists.
“I want to keep challenging my students and myself and not get complacent,” he said. “I want my classes to be fun and engaging, challenging, and professional… I want people to be challenged in a way that’s appropriate for their level.”
No matter who he’s faced with, March stresses the fundamentals.
“I want my students to draw better. Drawing is an issue many people have trouble with. You should learn how to draw if you’re an artist.”
Words to Paint and Live By
Eric March knew when he was a kid that he was going to be an artist. Following his dreams took a lot of creativity and dedication. Based on his real life experiences, he gives budding artists the following advice.
1 If you have to work a second job, do it in the field.
“Work in a gallery [or] at an art store—it keeps you focused on your career. It helps you make connections, stay engaged and meet other artists, and create a community.”
March’s first job in New York was at an art studio that created paintings for interior decorators. While it wasn’t ideal, it added to his resumé rather than detracting from it. Later he became a gallery assistant at Park Slope Gallery in Brooklyn. Now the gallery represents him.
2 Don’t wait for things to happen.
“Make opportunities for yourself if they’re not coming along. If that means creating a beautiful show in your living room and inviting all your friends, then that’s your first show. My first show in New York? A bunch of us got together and rented space and had a show.”
3 Making art is most important.
“People worry about networking and resumés… Make the work first. Worry about galleries and all that stuff later. Clarify your vision as an artist first. If it’s clear, if it’s strong, it will get noticed.”