Many artists dream of making a living from their art. Erik Laffer is living the dream. Even though he has no formal training past high school, the Saratoga Springs-based artist is able to concentrate on painting full-time, thanks to a photographer he met while working as a framer at Celeste Susany Gallery in Saratoga Springs. That photographer, Lawrence Wright, saw his work and urged him to sell it on the streets of New York City. The first time Laffer did that, he sold two paintings at almost $500 apiece.
In the beginning, he worked full-time at his job, painted in his spare time and spent his weekends in SoHo, selling his art during the day, sometimes sleeping in his car at night. Eventually, he was successful enough to quit his job and focus on painting. Some weekends, he took in between $3,000 and $10,000.
Once the market took a downturn, so did business, and last year he decided to turn his attention to working with galleries and art festivals. He was recently nominated by George Dirolf, his former art teacher at Bethlehem High, to join Oakroom, the Albany invitation-only artist group. At 29, he is their newest and youngest member.
Laffer also is one of three artists chosen as “Up and Coming Artists to Watch” by the Paradise City Art Fair, which will be held at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Mass., on Memorial Day weekend.
Q: When did you start painting?
A: I started in high school and it’s always been a passion. I spent my free periods in the art room. I started painting every day. I took my first year after high school off and in my second year, applied to the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I got accepted with advanced standing, but the more I thought about it, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I wanted the unfiltered route.
Q: In your statement you mention your childhood — how did it shape your work?
A: I basically had a crazy childhood — 5 brothers, 2 sisters, 14 to 18 foster children. My parents divorced when I was young. It was totally devastating. I’ve always had a difficult time expressing myself in words, so in my paintings, I incorporate different signs and symbols to create my own visual language.
Q: And what do those signs and symbols mean to you?
A: Not every line represents something; they’re abstract. I can’t realistically paint the people and places in my life so I created symbols to represent different people in my life — clouds, suns. That’s my language. Like maps, every painting is similar but if you look at maps closely, they take you to different places. I want the viewers to find something that maybe I don’t see — something they find on their own.
Q: How long have you been working on the Cartography Series?
A: Since 2005, but it’s changed. They’ve evolved into something really great. I’m always learning something new. My work is constantly evolving. I have clients who are collectors and some want to see something different, but I’m not going to change unless it comes naturally for me. The paintings have come a long way but there’s still a lot of room to grow.