Crafting still life bursts in surrealist landscapes, LA artist Erika Mugglin manipulates the human form into something whimsical and otherworldly. The viewer is left feeling as if they have snuck into the visions of one on a psychedelic trip. The use of color reflects the emotional framework of the human subjects in her photographs, making these images far more than a surface level expression of joyful temperaments.

The photographer and installation artist also participates in a performance art group called Glitterus, has created installation work for Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne’s interactive art space Womb Gallery, and was recently featured in Juxtapos magazine.

Mugglin was kind enough to share a bit about her background and discuss her creative process, the value of being self-taught, female sexuality, psychedelia, her bright perspective and future projects as an up and coming artist in a new city.

SM: Provide me a breakdown of your history as an artist and a little bit about yourself.

EM: I have lived several places growing up. I was born in upstate New York, grew up in North Carolina, and then moved to Ohio in 6th grade, where I completed school through undergrad. After college, I moved to Brooklyn but wasn’t really happy there. I found making art to be difficult so this year I’ve finally settled into Los Angeles, which I have been enjoying immensely. I began working with photography when I moved to Ohio and my parents bought a digital camera. It started as a way of preserving the moment for me, of capturing it forever, and progressed from there, through art school to the work I make now. I have a cat named Cleocatra.” J


SM: What is your educational background in art, and would you consider yourself more a self-taught artist?

EM: I started at Columbus College of Art and Design, but dropped out after a semester to really think about what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if it was necessary to go to school for art, I actually still don’t. I know plenty of artists that are self-taught or just worked as an assistant until they understood the ropes. I think going to school for art teaches you how to think and talk about art, but not necessarily how to do it outside of school. That being said, the years I spent when I did switch to Ohio State University are invaluable…and found inspiration for photography through classes such as Anthropology and Astronomy. It was here that I met one of my favorite professors Robert Derr who introduced me to performance art, which completely changed the way I thought about art making. My thesis didn’t contain a single photograph, but rather was a sculpture that I stood in that was meant to make you contemplate your effect on the perceived 11 dimensions of space/time.


SM: One of the strongest elements of your photography is your creation of lush, colorful worlds per subject. How influential was your work with the Womb Gallery, as well as your boyfriend, Jake Ingalls, musicianship with Flaming Lips and Spaceface? What draws you to using and manipulating bright, bold colors and not to darker subject matter?

EM: Psychedelia defeinitely plays a part in it. There was one series I did create, Heavenly Bodies, in college that was directly influenced by the visuals I saw at my first Flaming Lips show. I actually talked to Wayne (Coyne) about it the first time I met him in Toronto, which led me to meeting Jake (Ingalls of Spaceface and Flaming Lips) , and we’re going on almost three years of being together. I was actually trying to explain the second part of your question to someone just the other day… It’s strange because personally I really like a lot of dark, grainy, moody, faded subject matter and aesthetic in other people’s art. And I’m sure if I tried really hard, I could make art like that too, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I see the world through a brighter lens.


SM: I love your expression of sensuality. Intentional or not, I have found a trend occurring in photography lately, where the female subjects are “liberated sexually”, but no matter how stylistic they are, there is an empty eroticism to it. The erotic elements in your photography are equal parts playfulness and a psychedelic psychology to them, as if you are seeing what the mind and body are communicating at the same time. What are your personal thoughts on female sexuality both in your photography and in general?

EM: Good question! I am a woman and growing up, you are in a constant war against your sexuality. You both crave male attention (from the right ones) and despise being confined by your physical attributes (from the wrong ones), knowing that you are so very much more. In short: I think about 95% of photos of women are just cheap. The same vacant gazes, the same suggestive poses, the ‘liberated sexually’ but still doing exactly what a male dominated population wants them to only now with less clothing on. If I could do anything in my art, I would want to bring women’s sexuality away from the confines of the male gaze and into the female gaze: ‘What does a powerful woman really look like to you?” And working almost primarily with women, it’s hard to break the poses that are plastered on every billboard and magazine around the world and get to something more real. In my own work, I like the push and pull of attraction: a nude or partially nude form, and revulsion: it’s face is painted, or it’s eyes are collaged over, or the proportions aren’t quite right. It’s definitely a constantly evolving dialogue in my head and a subject I will undoubtedly keep working on.


SM: What objects, concepts, and/or spaces inspire you? Do you find that the more you create, the more you are inspired? Or, do you have long pauses in between.

EM: Definitely! At the moment, I have an obsession and fascination with rainbows. I can’t get enough of them, the way they look on your skin, or on objects, the metaphors they embody. I don’t question it.  I am just going to capture it until I’ve exhausted it and found my next obsession. Conceptual art and installation artwork are the most inspiring things to me. The interaction between viewer and space, how the viewer is necessary to complete the art, or the way that conceptual art keeps you asking questions long after you’ve left it. That is the type of work I am endlessly inspired by.


SM: Tell me about your project Glitterus with artist Natalie Wetzel. How long have you been doing it and is it still ongoing, what subject matter did you mutually enjoy most of?

EM: Glitterus is a performance art group that Natalie and I do together. Natalie is an amazing sculptress and woman in general. Her work focuses much more on performance than mine, actually, and she has been touring all over the US and even Europe connecting with other artists in this way. We unfortunately have not been actively working on Glitterus, but the hope is to pull something together for Desert Daze, which will be our first reunion in almost a year.


SM: What is your favorite platform for your work? What are your future projects and what are you currently working on and towards?

EM: I really love to have my work printed or projected wherever possible and I’ve recently gotten into wearables through Society6. I will be continuing working on the painted faces (series) over the summer and my current future projects involve a monthly art night, where everyone brings snacks, clothes, and props, and we get lost in our own little studio world for a time. 

Photography: Erika Mugglin  (click below for links to her work)