Work is a Four-Letter Word: Erica Frances George – Part 2

Photo © Kate Dunwell

Erica Frances George is one of those creative individuals that Pembrokeshire seems to specialise in… She is a truly original artist and an appealingly honest person. But be warned. She also loves to swear. So our two-part look at her life (click here to see part one) and her work may feature the occasional, but usually apt, expletive. 

Part Two: Erica’s Work

Much of Erica’s work is often unashamedly rude; and the words that make up her messages to the world can be as sharp as the scalpels she uses to cut them from paper.

Her growing range of prints include such gems as “Shit happens. Get over it” and the beautifully succinct “Fuck it”.

“I love swearing,” she says. “And I like making people laugh. Swearing is a sort of sideways look at things. It resonates with people and it has a level of honesty.”

Erica’s slogans and aphorisms are also meant to give support and inspiration: “I like the idea of empowering people – of bigging ourselves up.”

And that can mean people not doing what is expected of them. “I’ve always gone against convention,” she says. “We don’t have to follow every rule that we’re told to follow. In my case, I have never really had a career. I’ve just made decisions – not done what I should do or what I should not do.”

One constant in her life has been a fascination with words: “I’ve always written in a notebook since I was seven. My dad was a good storyteller and when he told me a story I would go and write it down.”

Did she draw pictures too? “No, I’m really shit at drawing!” 

But she is masterful at taking words and phrases and presenting them in a joined-up but also disjointed way. Her use of lettering can be subversive and provocative. Why is it often difficult to read her pieces quickly? “Life is so fast,” she says. “Any excuse to slow it down!”

She tells a story from a craft fair where she exhibited her work before the first lockdown: “Watching people’s reactions to my ‘101 Daily Reminders’ was priceless. A well-to-do lady was struggling to read one of them, and when she realised that it said: ‘Fuck it’, her face went grey. ‘Who put that on the wall?’ she demanded…

“But you’d be amazed by the people who buy ‘Fuck it’.”

Erica, as you will have realised by now, doesn’t have a problem with swearing. “Some people swear really well and they do it creatively,” she says. “Swearing can kind of defuse a situation very effectively. And, you know, people who swear are seen as more trustworthy.”

So how did she go from the little girl writing down her father’s stories to the woman creating shocking and awesome artwork?

“I have always done artwork. And I very much like sharp things,” she says with a slightly wicked smile. “Basketry… needlecrafts… I was big into woodcarving… all self-taught. I love the excitement of a really sharp blade! With the lettering, I realised that all I needed was a scalpel and a cutting mat.

“I started this kind of work in 2009. And I produced loads and loads of shit work for five years.”

So it took a while before she was in a position to devote herself to what she wanted to create: “I worked in gardens, cafés, shops… Every so often I’d give up a job to concentrate on my work and fall flat on my face – and then I’d go back and get another job in another café.”

Was that soul-destroying? “No, these jobs involved community and teamwork and service to other people, and being part of a team… all that has been deeply enriching and valuable.”

A few years ago she and her husband Justin built adjoining studios in Brynberian, where he could do his picture-framing work and she could do her art.

In normal times, Erica would be selling her work at markets, festivals and other events but the pandemic closed off those options. However, although what she produces is, as she says, “quite niche”, it sells well online, with customers near and far, including in Canada and the US.

As well as being sold through her website and at the occasional craft event, her work is also on sale at the House by Betty store in Carmarthen.

Summing up what she does, Erica says: “I would like to provoke some questions. I think we don’t really know ourselves until we ask ourselves some pertinent questions.”

And she is clearly doing what she loves. “Life is about finding the thing that we can do best,” she says. “Some people find it straight away – and for some, it takes years. For some, it is bringing up children; for another person, it might be being an entrepreneur.

“I think my mission since I came to Wales has been to find out how to live to my best potential. I have endless curiosity about how to be my best self.

“As I get better, I get more confident. As I get older, I give less fucks. Our best work is to be who we are. I’m getting closer to being more comfortable with where I am.”

www.ericafrancesgeorge.co.uk

Erica’s husband Justin’s framing business is George The Framer – www.georgetheframer.co.uk.

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at www.nigel-summerley.blogspot.com.

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