Erin Wiersma

Erin Wiersma

Fire is the end and fire is the beginning

Gently-rolling grassy hills of breathtaking beauty, the richness of a largely untouched natural environment in its diversity of grasses and wildflowers - this is the Konza Prairie. Officially known as the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS), the Konza, is a hub of research dedicated to maintaining prairie grassland ecosystems, located in the plains of the north central United States. This Great Plains region was a diverse ecosystem of grasses, flowers, millions of bison and other animals and fire. It was the home to several nations of indigenous peoples including the Kaw, Osage, Pawnee. These elements thrived on a balanced use of the prairie.  The settlement of the land, the tilling of the soil and the elimination of the bison ended the great tallgrass prairie.

The tallgrass prairie originally stretched from Canada across the midsection of North America all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, covering an area of 170 million acres. With only about four percent remaining, the Konza is a site for continuing research to assure a long future for the remaining prairie. Since 2017, Erin Wiersma has been working in this land. Her practice involves creating drawings with the earth itself, through many hours walking the Konza working in the land using the biochar as medium during and after prescribed burns. 

Following many of the practices of the native nations who preceded them, today the Konza Prairie is maintained by prescribed burns as one of the more significant methods of land management. Established in 1971, the Konza Prairie Biological Station is managed by Kansas State University. KPBS has been conducting research on the ecosystem, specifically fire, grazing, and climate variability. To maintain the grasslands and improve the quality of the soil there, targeted burnings divided by sector - set for research purposes. The burns are an instrument to control the growth of invasive shrubs, improve soil quality, and thus promote the replenishment of native grasses and wildflowers.

Erin Wiersma’s artistic practice is informed by the history of the prairie: its former inhabitants, its flora and fauna, and the contemporary working of the land. Her drawings express a deep connection to this landscape. The starting point of each drawing is the moment immediately after a deliberate burning of the grasslands up to over a year after, when the full lifecycle has returned vegetation. Her Konza Works on Paper are created during a performance, both in and with the prairie. She closely follows the topography of the land, either after the fire has moved across the land or in previously charred patches of prairie. The artist takes into account the natural elements of wind, temperature, and humidity when making each work. Equally decisive for the aggregate state of each of her artworks is the factor of time, the scheduling of the burnings in the respective regions.

Wiersma pulls, lifts, and drags large sheets of paper over and onto the burnt ground. This work is an expression of her sculptural conception of paper, which through the use of a roller (around which the paper is wrapped) or moving the material by hand, allows for specific interaction with the land. The artist moves the paper over the burned grass, continuously adding imprints of nature that come together as moving frottages of the landscape. Equally decisive for the aggregate state of each of her artworks is the factor of time, dependent as her practice is upon the scheduled burns in the respective sectors of the prairie preserve. Fragility speaks to the notion of time, and only in the final state does the artist conceive her works as two-dimensional, fragile works on paper.

In the end, Wiersma’s Konza Prairie Drawings are abstract portraits of the landscape in at times highly condensed strokes of gray, black, green, and earth tones with tightly placed chords of lines, marks, and scratches. Their all-over principle is an expression of the vastness of the landscape in which they are created. Not only that – nature itself can be said to add its veiny craquelure to the artist’s composition! In their complexity, Wiersma’s works on paper achieve a remarkable pictorial depth. They have absorbed the power of this land, its uniqueness, its deep history and capacity for renewal, and have followed in the footsteps of the indigenous tribes that once lived here.

Fire is a vehicle of civilization and culture. As a source of warmth and light, as well as of destruction and death, it is a thoroughly ambivalent element for both humans and nature. The spectrum of associations ranges from romantic campfires to uncontrollable forest fires, from heat-producing stoves to deadly conflagrations. The myth of death and rebirth is rooted in fire. In art, the spectrum ranges from Baroque paintings such as Peter Paul Rubens’s Prometheus (1636–37) to William Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Parliament (1835). Especially since the late 1960s, new unifying artistic positions of landscape, fire, and body have emerged, such as the Land/Body Art of Judy Chicago, who, with the intention of feminizing the landscape and breaking through masculine structures, lined it with soft pink plumes of smoke and let political statements rise in smokey letters. For her Smoke Bodies (1972), she painted women’s bodies and photographed them against the barren desert landscape. Of particular note are the Fire Fountains (1961) and Fire Paintings (1962–62) by Yves Klein, who, for the latter series, worked with an industrial blowtorch on Swedish cardboard and had the fire extinguished by a fireman. He, too, saw his work in the context of the vastness of nature: “Fire for me is the future without forgetting the past. It is the memory of nature.” On the other hand, since 1975, David Nash has been placing his wooden sculptures, such as the Charred Oak Menhirs, in a furnace, in open fires, or working on them with a flamethrower.

In comparison to this artistic lineage of fire in art, Erin Wiersma’s work proceeds from controlled burnings with significance for the environment. In the seemingly lifeless state of nature, she collects traces of charcoal and other remnants of burned grasses and wildflowers with the sensitive paper and, with her work, giving visibility to the renewal. With her fascinating Konza Prairie Drawings, Erin Wiersma shows us this brief, seemingly invisible moment of transition from a state of lifelessness to a new blossoming. As an artist with a practice of walking, she traverses temporal planes and geographical variations. Her works on paper visualize the moment of rejuvenation as well as of decay, and thus the entire cycle of nature: Fire is the end, and fire is the beginning.

Fenna Wehlau

(Foreword to the catalogue "After the Burn" )




1982 born in Somerville, New Jersey US
Lives and works in Manhattan, Kansas
2009University of Connecticut, M.F.A.
2004Messiah College, B.A.
2003Istitutio San Lodovico, Orvieto, Italien

Solo Exhibitions (Selection)

2022After the Burn, Galerie Fenna Wehlau, München
2021Land Institute Prairie Festival, Salina Art Center, Salina, KS
2020art KARLSRUHE, Galerie Fenna Wehlau
2019Catch the Shadow: International Contemporary Drawing, Bo-ai Gallery, National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan
 Wester: Works on Paper from the Konza Prairie, Culture Lab, Mid-America Art Alliance, Kansas City, MO
 Tracing Watersheds: Konza Prairie, Featuring Grassland Interview (voices) by Katie Kingery-Page, Salina Art Center, Salina, KS
2018Main Gallery at UCM Gallery of Art & Design, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO
2017Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO
 Gestural Mapping, Hand-Rudy Gallery, Dairy Arts Center, Boulder, CO
 Bottega Chioccia Tsarkova, Orvieto Itay
2015Jacqueline B. Charno Gallery, Kansas City Artist Coalition, Kansas City, MO
 Mapping Chaos, Clayton Staples Gallery, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS
 Liminal Territories, Tony Hungerford Memorial Gallery, Colllege of Southern Maryland – LaPlata, MD
2014The Theory of Line, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
 Traced Time, Johnson Gallery, Jackson State University, Jackson, MS
2013Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC
2012Momentary Traces, Gallery at Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, CT
 Intervals of Time, University Gallery, Pittsburgh State University – Pittsburg, KS
2010One Week in November, Sarah A. Coyne Gallery, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
2007Redemption Form, Hampden Gallery, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, MA

Group Exhibitions (Selection)

2022art KARLSRUHE 2022, Galerie Fenna Wehlau
2021Earthly Observatory, School of the Art Institute of Chicago Galleries, Chicago, IL
2020All Terrain, Spartanburg Museum of Art, Spartanburg, SC
 art KARLSRUHE 2020, Galerie Fenna Wehlau
 Prairie. River | Lisa Grossman and Erin Wiersma, The Volland Store, Alma, KS
2019Catch the Shadow: International Contemporary Drawing, Bo-ai Gallery, National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan
 Material Differences, Birke Art Gallery of Marshall University, Huntington, WV
 Paper Positions, Galerie Fenna Wehlau
 Line | Poetry, Galerie Fenne Wehlau, München
 Rocket Summer – Temperature Curatorial Project Series, Neon Heater, Findlay, OH
2018Here and Now, Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan, KS
 Marking Presence, McMahon Gallery, Dairy Arts Center, Boulder, CO
2017Natural Instincts, The Jewish Art Salon hosted by the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, CT
 100 Works on Paper Benefit, Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn, NY
 Gathering Differences, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
 Infrastructure: Land, Mind, Country, AICAD Seminar Gallery, New York Artist Residency Program, Brooklyn, NY
2016With/drawn: Nancy Morrow & Erin Wiersma, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
 New Art in Old House, Governors Island, NY
 Wish You Were Here, Interstate Projects, Brooklyn, NY
 In the Secret Garden, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2015Line & Space, Martin Museum of Art, Baylor University, Waco, TX
 Summer National Juried Exhibition, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, Novato, CA
 THE (Un)Fair, Manhattan, NY
 Transformed Viewpoints, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2014Draw, Drawing, Drawn, Vita Art Center, Ventura, CA
 Liminal Communities, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2013New Drawings: Sara Schneckloth & Erin Wiersma, SOHO20 Gallery, NY, NY 2013
 A Fine Line: Contemporary Drawing, Claypool-Young Art Gallery, MSU - Morehead, KY
 Fragments, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
 Push on the Surface, Gallery at Raritan Valley Community College, Branchburg, NJ
2012The Human Presence, Triangle Gallery, Sinclair Community College, Dayton, OH
 Celebrating Kindred Spirits and Strange Bedfellows, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2011Ephemera, Olive DeLuce Fine Art Gallery, NWMSU - Maryville, MO
 Intimacy, ARC Gallery, Chicago, IL
 Drawing Discourse Exhibition, S. Tucker Cooke Gallery, UNC – Ashville, NC
2010MOAK 4-State Regional Exhibition 2010, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, MO
 Drawing in the Expanded Field, Clara Hatton Gallery, CSU - Fort Collins, CO
2009Wayne and Geraldine Kuhn Gallery, OSU – Marion, OH
 Apperceptions, SOHO20 Gallery, NY, NY
 Apperceptions, William Benton Museum of Art, Storrs CT
 Coast to Coast, Dakshina Chitra Gallery, Chennai India
2008Coast to Coast, Ruchika’s Art Gallery, Panjim, Goa India

Publications: Blogs | Exhibitions in Print

2019Colin Edgington, Stories from the fire on Tracing Watershed | Konza Prairie, featuring Grassland Interview (voices), Salina Arts Center, Salina, KS
 Colin Edgington, Dragging Through Fire: On Erin Wiersma’s Konza Prairie, Minding Nature Journal at The Center for Humans & Nature’ online and printed Chicago, IL. Fall Issue
2018Jennifer J Rhodes, “After the Burn – Making Art Out of Grassland Fires,” LTER Stories.
2017Sharon Butler, “Two Coats resident artist Erin Wiersma returns from Kansas,” Two Coats of Paint.
 Sarah Handcock, “Drawing in Place,” Seek Magazine. Vol. 7: Issue 2
 Butler, Sharon, “Infrastructure at Seminar in DUMBO,” Two Coats of Paint.
2016INDA 10, Manifest Gallery and Drawing Center.
2015Sharon Butler, “Quick study: Art bus, Rauschenberg as bad parent, sexism in arts writing, Abelow, Two Coats Residency, Stanley Whitney, Stella retrospective, more.” Two Coats of Paint.
 Jacquelyn Gleisner, “Still Points in Erin Wiersma’s Drawings.” Art21 Online Magazine – Sincerity Issue.
 Sharon Butler, “Two Coats of Paint Artist Residency Program kicks off this week.” Two Coats of Paint.
 Creative Quarterly Magazine, CQ37, 3x3 Publishing, New York, NY.
2014Studio Visit Magazine, Volume 28. Open Studio Press, Boston, MA.
 Danielle Fallon, "Lines and Layers: Erin Wiersma’s ‘The Theory of Line’”, On-Verge, CUE Foundation.
 Sharon Butler, "Erin Wiersma: What's Left of Our Lives," Two Coats of Paint.
 Marsha Levin-Rojer, “Erin Wiersma: Dynamic Exploration,” (Catalog Essay)
2013Studio Visit Magazine, Volume 23. Open Studio Press, Boston, MA
2011Studio Visit Magazine, Volume 13. Open Studio Press, Boston, MA

Awards & Residencies (Selection)

2022The Land Institute, 2021Prairie Festival Artist – postponed to 2022
2021The Drawing Center, Viewing Program 20/21 Artist
2020University Small Research Grant, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
2019National Endowment for the Arts, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission Grant, Co-PI Katie Kingery-Page
 Engagement Incentive Grant, Center for Engagement and Community Development, Kansas State University, Co-PI Katie Kingery-Page
2018University Small Research Grant, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
2017Two Coats of Paint Residency, Brooklyn, NY
2016University Small Research Grant, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
2015Two Coats of Paint Residency, Brooklyn, NY
 Draw International Residency, Caylus, France
2014[Awarded Best in Show] Draw, Drawing, Drawn, Vita Art Center, Ventura, CA
 University Small Research Grant, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
2013President’s Academic Excellence Award, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
 Big 12 Faculty Fellowship 2013 – 2014
2011Faculty Development Award, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
2010Small Research Grant, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

after the burn, 2022

Article about Erin Wiersma from Colin Edgington "Minding Nature"

after the burn