The blog highlights the happenings of the Short North Arts District. In Art Spotlight, we feature the artists, gallerists, performers, and professional companies of the District and explore their exhibitions, shows, and more.

This week, we talked to Sherrie Gallerie artists Calvin Ma and Erica Sanada about their latest exhibition, debuting on Sunday, July 28, 2019. Sanada’s work was selected by the community for inclusion in the upcoming Unconventional mural series, while Ma’s work previously appeared in the BLANK SPACES mural series from 2015-2017.

Sherrie’s summary of the show explains that this exhibition focuses on grappling with fear and anxiety. How does creating your work help you to manage and express these feelings?

CM: For me and Erika, making work about our anxieties is kind of like therapy. We vent and express a certain feeling into a piece and in the process, it forces us to look at the possible driving forces behind those feelings. I’m not sure if it helps us manage those feelings, but we come to an understanding with them.

Calvin, throughout your work, using some kind of imagery to create protective layers for your figures is a common theme. Where did you find the inspiration to use birds for this show? Do each of the different species of birds have a specific meaning?

CM: I’ve always loved birds. Their ability to fly, their feathers, colors, shapes, and sizes; everything about them fascinates me. A couple years ago, Erika brought home a small parrot and this was the first time I was able to really get up close and bond with one. We named him Rocket; he has a huge personality and he’s definitely the inspiration behind my bird themed work. If a certain species captures a specific feeling I’m aiming for, I’ll go for it. Sometimes I’ll choose a bird because its color helps set the mood for a certain piece.

Erika, you’ve said you like that your figures are inspired by creatures and characters in dark films. For this show, Sherrie’s summary explains that you explore “unlikely friendships through peaceful acceptance.” What are the unlikely friendships you’re exploring? How have they helped you accept feelings of fear and anxiety?

ES: I use dogs as my main character and they represent myself, and the other animals (birds, fish, bugs, etc.) are my anxieties, fears, and worries. Sometimes, dogs and other creatures look like they are playing, fighting, or being civil. Those are my relationships with my anxieties, and this is how I express my dark feelings. All my anxieties mix in my mind and body, then I have to digest or let them out. I believe this creating process helps me to cope and deal with my overthinking and worries.

Each of you creates beautifully intricate, painstakingly detailed figures; what is your process for creating new work? About how long did these works take you to complete?

CM: We’ve both made plaster molds of the general shapes and parts we use in our work to help things along. We cast these shapes with clay, then alter by adding onto them, carving into them, and texturing the surfaces to give it life. I apply colors with under-glazes, so my work goes through several kiln firings. Erika’s work is colored with a cold finish using an airbrush. Each piece usually takes us anywhere from a week to two weeks, depending on the complexity.

Has forming a relationship together, first as students at the Academy of Art University up through your marriage and shared studio space, helped with your separate anxieties? If so, how?

CM: I’ve become reliant on Erika being with me in social situations to feel comfortable. I think I function a bit better in social settings when she is by my side.

ES: Being with Calvin definitely helps me a lot. I overthink a lot of things, and he helps me to calm down. He understands me and knows my personality, so he knows how to talk me down when I worry too much about any particular thing.

How did you form a relationship with Sherrie and her gallery?

CM: I first learned of Sherrie Gallerie at the Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design (SOFA) fair in Chicago in 2013. They were one of a handful of galleries that featured ceramic artists in a glass-centric art fair, and I loved the work they had on display. I don’t think I met Sherrie then, but shortly after she contacted me and expressed interest in showing my work, and I’ve been with the gallery ever since. Erika was with me at that fair and loved Sherrie’s booth just as much as I did. She met Sherrie when we flew out for my shows at the gallery and that’s how their relationship began.

What does it mean to you as artists to be represented by a gallery that is located in an arts district?

CM: It means everything. We get to tap into and share our work with such a vibrant community that’s been built in that area. We’re really fortunate to be in a situation that provides us such exposure and support.

Calvin Ma and Erika Sanada’s new work will be on exhibit at Sherrie Gallerie, located at 694 N. High St, through September 3, 2019. There will be an artists’ reception on July 28 from 3:00pm – 5:00pm.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.