Erik Sandgren | Painter / Printmaker

Art Adventure Gallery : EACWKatalog 2004 : Painter of the Raincoast : Ghost Stories : The Raven : Painter of the Pacific Northwest : Painter of Grays Harbor : Painter of the Harbor : Erik Sandgren: Drawing
Erik in Grand Gulch Cedar Mesa photo art blauvelt Erik Painting in Gwaii Hanass 2015 Nirvana Mural project Erik with Jason Sobottka, Anthony James Cotham and David Wall Painting Weather 2015 Sitka AK 2013 .jpeg

Curriculum Vitae

Downloadable Bio Summary

Complete CV

Bio by Jake Seniuk, Director of PAFAC, January 2012

Erik Sandgren was born in Corvallis, Oregon in 1952 and grew up there in the environs of Oregon State University. His father, Nelson Sandgren, was a noted painter and OSU art professor and the household was saturated with visual culture that fostered his early interests and education as a painter. Erik went east to study at Yale (BA.1975) and Cornell (MFA, 1977) where he honed his painting and printmaking skills and absorbed the broad path of Ivy League liberal arts.

Like a homing salmon, however, Sandgren returned to the headwaters of his art and of his early life in the Pacific Northwest, drawn by a vivid landscape where raw nature is close-at-hand and the history of industrialization is little more than a century old. Following his father’s career trajectory he landed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1989 where he has served as a one-man art department at Grays Harbor College to the present day.

Sabbaticals have allowed him to pursue teaching and artist-in-residence stays in England and France from where he has explored that more settled landscape through on site painting and expanded firsthand his knowledge of the history of Western art and architecture.

Sandgren has exhibited broadly in many solo, two-person, group, and juried shows and his work is held in numerous private and public collections including those of the Franklin Furnace Gallery of the Museum of Modern Art, Yale University Art Gallery and the China National Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou.

He has also created a number of public art projects that include a 4,000 square feet mural of Oregon landscapes he completed with his father in the Eugene/Springfield Airport in 1989. Most recently he has completed a 75-foot mural for the Port of Grays Harbor’s Commission Room, commemorating one hundred years of marine commerce, while accentuating the natural riches of the vital estuary as the context for this productive harbor.


Erik Sandgren, who probes the Northwest landscape with sensitivity to myth and origins. Titled Ghost Stories, the collection of three-dozen, paintings, prints and drawings is culled from more than two decades of prolific artmaking by the Grays Harbor College professor.

Sandgren finds resonance in the landscape. He often works in nature, in the plein aire mode for direct observation and inspiration. He hews more layered compositions in the studio with loose brushstrokes that accrue like a kind of freeform brickwork of daubs and slashes.

His recurrent subject is a swirl of earth, water and sky, in which mythic figures loom and fade. The aboriginal past is ubiquitously present in spirit and body. His fluid eloquence with the vocabulary of light and color speaks in visionary passages where the borders between the solid, the wet and the airy dissolve into churning currents of primal soup.

Sandgren is always attentive to the gyre of nature, but equally courts the evidence of human intervention. A painting titled In the Shadow of Industry: Chehalis Gill-netter presents a skyline view of the working waterfront of the Chehalis River as it flows through Aberdeen.

Sandgren has repeatedly scraped and blotted the painting’s surface, distressing and aging the pigment to invest his forms with a sense of the decay and environmental degradation that is the toll of industrialization.

Techniques of erasure and effacement are a recurring expression of Sandgren’s fascination with the palimpsest. Derived from the Greek meaning “to scrape smooth” it refers to a manuscript or document whose original contents have been scraped away. Yet traces of the origins remain visible after it is overwritten by the words or designs of a later author.

Sandgren scrapes and sands the hardened acrylic surface — digging down into earlier layers and letting the accretions resurface as part of the image. His universe is filled with persistent afterimages of aboriginal spirits, ghosts that he can coax from most any scene that grabs his interest.

A canvas titled Excavation: The Archaeologists glimpses a group of faceless figures, some digging and some observing the uncovering of a ceremonial raven beak. The sky is alight with streaky auroras of yellow and orange that form spirit faces imbedded in the glow.

The scene brings to mind the discovery of a Port Angeles ghost field when construction crews unearthed the burial ground of the ancient Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen in the “Graving Yard Debacle” of 2003-04. That is a story of lingering karmic legacies left over from 2700 years of habitation by the area’s indigenous people and from the two centuries of “settler” culture that overwrote but did not totally erase them like in a palimpsest.

Needly forest canopies, rippling rocky outcroppings, churning surf and the dense atmospherics of perpetually occluded skies are rich ground for Sandgren’s phantoms.

In a painting titled Journey the artist lays on his chalky brushstrokes in gauzy layers to concoct a rheumy atmosphere alive with totemic spirits that are translucently imbedded in the clouds and sea. On the indistinct horizon a ghostly Native long canoe emerges from the mist, its shrouded crew bobbing on currents that tatter the fabric of time and push them into the Present.