Eric Trine welds pieces of wiry metal into a tetrahedron-inspired sculpture about five feet high and across in a communal studio in northeast Portland. The sculpture is for his show “Altars To The Unknown” that is on display this month at Nisus Gallery.
Trine, a graduate student in a joint program between Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art, creates work that he classifies as either art or design. As a designer, Trine works on small client projects crafting one-of-a-kind chairs, tables and shelves. As an artist, he creates sculptures for events.
“I make a lot of different things,” says Trine. “I think it’s all about end purpose. Which purpose is this for? Is this a table? Is this a chair? If I don’t know what it is, then that gets put in the art category.”
Trine admits, when he explores new materials, he will make a piece that doesn’t belong in either category and he places it on the shelf.
“This show is about the accumulation of explorations that sat on the shelf – this island of misfit toys – and gathering them all up and putting them together,” he says. “Is this functional? Is this table level? Those kinds of considerations don’t come into play. It’s really nice to just explore the materials and not know from the beginning what they are going to do and be open to the process as it develops.”
Trine wasn’t planning to feature his “misfit toys” in an exhibition. It was when Nisus’ Creative Director Alison Reilly saw Trine’s work on the social photo-sharing app Instagram that she conceived of the idea to showcase Trine’s artwork around this theme.
“I had been following his work on Instagram. I saw a photo of a piece where Eric had put balloons into a wire frame. I thought it was really playful. Then, I contacted Eric to do a show,” says Reilly.
Like many people, Trine shares his interests online with Instagram. But instead of posting photos of cats, kids and cappuccino, Trine shares photos related to art and design – mostly his own work. Right now you can find photos of the sculptures featured in “Altars To The Unknown” tagged with the hashtag #AltarsToTheUnknown. Trine believes sharing photos casually on Instagram is changing the way artists connect with stores, curators and galleries.
“At the heart of a lot of art practices is [the goal of] engaging your audience,” says Trine. “Rather than going through the hierarchy and getting bigger and bigger shows, you can completely go through the back door, and say, ‘Look, I already have 20,000 people paying attention to my work. Maybe if we have a show, we’ll have good sell-through for your gallery.’ ”
As Trine shares his work online, curators are taking notice. Brad Nelson is the founder and a creative director at Nisus Gallery and works alongside Reilly. Nelson’s vision for Nisus is to maintain a dedicated space for showcasing mid-career emerging artists, whether they are painters, illustrators or sculptors. Nelson and Reilly think Trine meets that description.
“The first thing I noticed about Eric was his scale within spaces,” says Nelson. “He had done lighting sculptures for a party at PNCA. He is creating an interesting way you can interact with these pieces.”
Reilly adds, “ ‘Is this a piece of furniture? Is this a piece of art?’ It’s an interesting question in itself, so it’s exciting to see someone wrestling with that and showing it in their work.”
Trine finishes sanding the metal edges of his tetrahedron-inspired sculpture in the metal shop. He polishes the wiry structure of the sculpture to get it ready for the show. Instead of sitting on a shelf waiting to become a sculpture or a piece of furniture, this piece will be on display to see if it can fall somewhere in between.