Artist Erin. M. Riley, a weaver who specializes in recreating the selfies that couples sext to each other, is starting to go national.
A Cape Cod area native, the 29-year-old artist got her BFA at Boston’s Massachusetts School of Art and Design and MFA at Tyler School of Art in Philly. Now based in Brooklyn, her work is featured in this month’s issue of Playboy magazine.
“I had some thoughts about, ‘Is this the best idea — to further sexualize my work?'” Riley said. “But it was like not at all what I was close-mindedly expecting from Playboy,” said.
Instead of playing up the erotic, the magazine’s article on Riley focused on the merits of her work, which is inspired by the digital era.
“On Twitter was the first time I found a selfie,” Riley said. “I found this one girl’s profile, and it was just pictures of her. I was kind of amazed and fascinated that every tweet was just a picture of her in the nude or her underwear, and people were engaging — that was titillating for her and her thousands and thousands of followers.”
Riley was drawn to these images due to her own experiences “growing up on Friendster and Myspace and Facebook, and relating to your peers through images,” she said.
“Nobody is really satisfied by real life relationships anymore, we need the constant thrill of ‘likes’ on a phone,” she said.
Not all of Riley’s work depicts nude women — there are also images of guns, drugs, and car crashes — which is a separate but related aspect of her work, she said.
“I was researching the effects of trauma, arrests, deaths, things that lead to single parent households, or how young women develop and have daddy issues or become hypersexual,” she said. “The women drive the work, but I feel like it all connects.”
Riley said she isn’t being voyeuristic by weaving found pictures of nude women on the internet. In fact, many of her weaves are based on pictures of herself.
“It’s looking at the sadder side of making images,” she said. “People say, ‘I wouldn’t like your work if it wasn’t a tapestry or I didn’t know you had to take 100 hours to make it … When it’s not just a picture on Tumblr, it allows them to see the images.”
Some of Riley’s subjects have contacted her after seeing their images in woven form, but that’s rare, she said.
“I don’t know if they know. I haven’t heard much response,” Riley said. “I do change the images now more than I used to.”