Erykah Townsend, also known as E.T., is a conceptual artist from Cleveland, Ohio. Her art boldly confronts and questions the role of pop culture in our lives. She states, “I use pop culture as a medium itself - exploring the spaces it fills in our lives and the inquiry of how real are the imaginary." Through reflective and humorous narratives, Townsend references art history and critiques consumerism and western culture, using characters, cultural icons, and objects as allegories for her criticism. In addition, her work includes elements from their original sources, providing the audience with a fresh and sentimental encounter. Townsend received her BFA in painting from The Cleveland Institute of Art in 2020.
Townsend compares her art process to some Hip Hop songs, where she samples and references pop culture to structure her work. She believes that certain fictional characters and icons are so ingrained in pop culture that they are essentially a part of the real world. This is similar to René Magritte's "The Treachery of Images," where a pipe is both a pipe and a painting of a pipe. Similarly, Mickey Mouse is a mouse, but he’s also just an animated character, although he has a presence in the world just as a real mouse does. Townsend reckons there's no valuable difference between painting a fictional character like Big Bird or a real canary because they both take place in our culture and clearly communicate their form or existence.
“It's all real. Think about it. Haven't Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he... he's had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same could be said of Bugs Bunny and, a-and Superman and Harry Potter. They've changed my life, changed the way I act on the Earth. Doesn't that make them kind of "real." They might be imaginary, but, but they're more important than most of us here. And they're all gonna be around long after we're dead. So in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.”
— Kyle Broflovski