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2012 New Visual Artist: Erin Schell

By Justin Sullivan


"America ouf of ______," 2011


By all accounts, Erin Schell was doing well. She had a good job designing book jackets for a large company. But there was one minor issue: “I found working for a corporation and having a comfortable job sort of soul crushing and meaningless,” she says. “But that’s just me.”

In 2009, Schell left her job and began teaching at Parsons and taking philosophy classes. Last year, she entered a master’s program in political philosophy. Examining the intersection of aesthetics and philosophy has been a way for her to reassert control over what she creates. “It was about trying to have meaning and autonomy in my own work,” she says.


Schell’s interests have converged in the Occupy movement (she has contributed illustrations to the literary journal n+1’s Occupy! gazette and recently went on a tour of Italy discussing the protests) and in The New York Times’ philosophy blog, the Stone. Her collages for the latter—Socrates in the clouds contemplating earthly delights; carnivorous animals dangling over a moral abyss—use graphics as a means for critical inquiry. “It’s not just empty decoration,” says Aviva Michaelov, the art director of The Times’ opinion pages and Sunday Review.


"Pro-lice Pro-tect the-one per-cent"



Illustrations for The New York Times blog the Stone, 2010


The depth of Schell’s work is apparent in an installation she created for a public library in Washington, D.C. In “Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown,” she gives a visual history of the changing D.C. neighborhood, drawing on three months of research and reporting. Old newspaper stories and halftone images come together in a rich assemblage of overlapping memories and histories. Mixing sharp politics with evident empathy for the people of the community, it’s exactly the kind of work Schell wants to do more of. “It’s the idea of storytelling,” she says.

“The question of: How do you foster a sense of community to shake people out of modern alienation?”


Above and below: "Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown," installation at Washington, D.C., Public LIbrary, 2011



"Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown"



Illustration for Guernica, 2011



See the other 2012 NVA winners:

  1. Sang Mun

  2. Erin Schell

  3. Berton Hasebe

  4. Drea Zlanabitnig

  5. Casper Heijkenskjöld

  6. Kelsey Dake

  7. Jerome Corgier

  8. Tracy Ma

  9. Olimpia Zagnoli

  10. Ryan Thacker

  11. John Passafiume

  12. Lisa Hedge

  13. Jungyeon Roh

  14. Dafi Kühne

  15. Jing Wei

  16. Caleb Bennett

  17. Naz Sahin

  18. Serifcan Ozcan

  19. Brendan Griffiths

  20. George Michael Brower


More Design Resources:

  1. Available now: Print Magazine’s Guest Art Director Digital Collection

  2. Enter your work in the Regional Design Annual

  3. Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) with George Lois

  4. Get an inside look at logo design from Chermayeff & Geismar

#20under30 #newvisualartists #NVA

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