Can you describe the point at which you realized that creating was absolutely something you wanted to do?
I have always been drawn to art, although not as an observer (I found art museums or the idea of them kind of boring as a child), but as a drawer. I loved to express visually and I found that I did it relatively well. I don’t think there was a time where I decided, or discovered that I wanted to be an artist….I just was one; it was a part of me. The form that my art took was influenced in many ways by my surroundings, etc. As a child, I drew; pencils were cheap and paper was available. When I became a young man and set out to ‘see the world’, a friend sent me a parting gift after a time (a set of oil paints, and …yes, I have thanked her these many years later for that influential piece of kindness). Once, in my youth, I was overcome with the urge to express myself artistically and I thought of being an actor – even a dancer, a singer, etc. Eventually, reality set in and I dedicated my artistic efforts to painting. My art has grown with me (isn’t art life, after all?), and hopefully will mirror at some point, only love and light and my gratitude for the Revelation of Baha’u’llah.
From what source do you draw your inspiration?
We are so blessed in this day to have such a treasure trove of sources for our artistic ideas. Of course, my first source is ‘The Dawn Breakers’ by Nabil. The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi , pointed us to this source and I have always considered it an immense challenge to be an artist worthy of representing adequately the spiritual nature of the birth of this Cause; one that I must strive to live up to as I grow (hopefully) as an individual and as an artist. The Baha’i Sacred Writings are a source of inspiration to all of us, and in my case, I strive to produce an artwork which visually conveys my limited understanding, and in this way share my love for our Beloved Cause.
How has being an artist and teacher given you the opportunity to inspire others and share your Faith?
I teach art to little children, and as a teacher, I influence (for better or for worse) the lives of beginning human beings; human beings who will grow to hear of, and eventually recognize, the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah. The enormity of that responsibility is sobering, and something that all of us adults, teachers or not, should think of every day. I strive that my art will influence a soul, bring joy, thankfulness or a possible new way of thinking about things, or may even move someone to want to investigate the Baha’i Faith. Only God will know if I succeed at that or not, and that is fine with me.
What goal do you wish to achieve through your art and as an artist?
I have come to believe as time goes by, that the main goal of an artist, at least me as an artist, is to eliminate as much of the ‘self’ as possible. I believe the goal should be to relate the subject without becoming involved as a personality. Humanity is assisted on this plane of existence by the pure souls who have already moved beyond this plane; as an artist if I can become ‘as a hollow reed’… that would be conducive to the production of a work of art worthy of the word; ‘art’. I try to keep the Greatest Name on my tongue and consciousness throughout the actual activity of painting, I really don’t know if at any point I succeed to a small extent in that goal, but, if a sincere effort is made, there will be the greatest possibility of success. I try to keep the Greatest Name on my tongue and consciousness throughout the actual activity of painting, and to remember that art is worship.
Can you share with us a memorable experience in which your art has helped you to teach the Faith?
When I was a brand new Baha’i (I’m guessing about six months or so), I was moved to offer to go Pioneering. I wrote a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States (NSA) conveying my desire to go; I said I would go anywhere; I had lived in Alaska and Florida so I was familiar with climate. I told them I had $400 saved and asked if that was enough. They wrote back and suggested Puerto Rico and that I should wait until I save more money. Several months later, the Pioneering Committee wrote to PR to ask if they had heard about me – for I had not answered. I had been there for several months; I couldn’t wait. I told the NSA in my original letter that I thought I might make a living selling my art…hahaha. No wonder they asked me to wait.
Eventually of course, my money ran out and I had to look for a job. I asked everywhere, applied in every conceivable venue, and after being denied at Sears I reapplied, explained why I would be a good hire, and got a job in the display department. (My art was earning me money!) I stayed for about eight or nine years in Puerto Rico pioneering. My job eventually transferred me to a corporate position in Venezuela and I pioneered there for seven or eight more years. I then felt I needed to get some formal art education and went back to Ringling College of Art in Sarasota Fla. for three years. In 1983, we went back to Latin America; this time to Costa Rica – and here I am ’till this day. Last night I was thinking about it and reflecting on all of the years of my life since my decision to go pioneering, and the suggestion that I might support myself with my art. I realized that I was able to support myself with my art- first in the display department at Sears, and then in Costa Rica as a teacher of art to children (in addition to developing my art) for the last 34 years.
All Things Baha’i wishes to thank Leonard Ericks for allowing us to share a bit of his life, Faith and art with us.
We have chosen some of Leonard’s artwork to display in our online Gallery. To see his entire collection or to obtain one of his art pieces visit his FaceBook page Leonard Ericks Art
Please select any image to open the Gallery Viewer (player feature bottom right, full screen option top left on the viewer).