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Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty. Click here for the full collection.

The Salt Water Skin Boats exhibition that opened recently at the Reach Gallery Museum in British Columbia stands in stark contrast to the work that Tim Bascom wrote about in his thoughtful essay “A Beautiful Affliction” some eighteen years ago in Image [issue 31]. Fueled by Simone Weil, my earlier work was deeply interior—a sustained study of embodiment, suffering, and prayer. My current work engages collaborative, interdisciplinary, and socially engaged processes to create immersive installations that require teams to install and are driven by environmental concerns. Where I used to work in encaustic, I now use ordinary objects woven together into what I call “material semiotic entanglements.” But the work is still about embodiment, the objects I make are often coated in wax, and I continue to draw—in journals, on paper and panels, and in space, with branches, objects, and sound.

Erica Grimm. “Salt Water Skin Boats”, 2018. Large-scale immersive installation and soundscape. Reach Gallery Museum, Abbotsford.


In retrospect, it seems clear that my work has changed since I turned thirty. Inevitably, so must have I. Whereas my first thirty years seemed focused on establishing active making and contemplative practices—and in so doing, honed a kind of interior scrutiny—the next thirty facilitated a slow turn toward exterior scrutiny. The contemplative practices of the first three decades led towards an urgent focus on the environment. Having children and weathering all the ordinary sorrows and joys of living inaugurated this change in orientation. A heart attack, divorce, PhD, and a daily research-creation practice have each in turn stopped me, woken me up, focused my attention, and fueled work that continues to surprise me.

How have I changed since turning thirty? What have I learned? Doing a PhD taught me how much I love philosophy. When I read philosophy, my response is to make. Slowly, teaching has become as important as making art. I have learned that time is a gift, and never to waste it. Sit in silence every day. Trust your inner voice. Lean into what you do not know. Cultivate curiosity, love learning. Never trust fear. Go to the gym, take walks in your neighborhood. Learn about the land you live on and who lived there before you did. Draw daily. Ask questions, and through making, try and make sense of things. Art-making is an unknowable, untamable, wild form of inquiry. You never know where it will take you.


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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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