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Micaela Gerhardt, Bismarck Tribune, Published May 05 2013

Bismarck native’s art hangs at Smithsonian

BISMARCK – As a 3-year-old, Erik Hougen went to football games with his dad and would later come home and draw pictures of the game. His drawings consisted of large, scribbly circles as heads and long stick legs.

“We got some pretty interesting drawings of what football looks like,” his dad, John Hougen, said.

Years later, Erik Hougen has been selected as one of 48 finalists in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition out of roughly 3,000 applicants. His portrait is a snapshot of his father, John, created using watercolor as his primary medium on a large paper canvas.

The portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and will be on display until February 2014.

Erik Hougen’s portrait is titled “John H.” and is derived from an image of his father he took on Christmas years ago.

“People take away all different reactions from the portrait,” Erik Hougen said. “Some people thought he looks kind of creepy and mean, which is not the case at all. I just took a photo of him. We were sitting around having lunch and it seemed like a good time to take a photo. It just made sense for entering the competition.”

Erik Hougen graduated from Century High School and took classes at Bis-marck State College for a year and then transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he continued his studies with his focus in his art. Then, in 2006, he graduated from Pratt Institute in New York, N.Y., where he has lived ever since.

He works as the master printer at The Lower East Side Print Shop in New York City and showcases his art in various galleries while also teaching classes at Pratt Institute.

“When I moved out here, people from back home are like, ‘How can you live out there?’ ” Erik Hougen said, “And when I got out here it felt so good and natural. It was never a big adjustment for me.”

He remembers traveling often as a kid and teen and being in awe of the museums and big paintings. He said his passion for art was planted at a young age.

“There’s something really monumental about that work I saw when I was growing up that I was influenced by,” he said. “I think that’s why I make these big paintings. Chuck Close is obviously a big inspiration. It was always there.”

Close is a photographer and painter who uses techniques and mediums similar to Erik.

His parents met him in Washington, D.C., to view his painting and the other portraits in the gallery.

“It’s strange, I don’t know how else to say it,” John Hougen said. “It’s an excellent portrait – very large scale, very realistic. When you get closer you see some of the drips and stuff. I have no idea how he does it. We’re really proud of him. He’s in a big market, of course.

“He’s earning a living in the cities as an artist, which isn’t an easy thing to do. He’s able to concentrate on art. He’s a hard worker. North Dakota values really paid off with him.”

“It was really exciting,” Erik Hougen added. “I think it was more exciting for my dad – just seeing my dad there and what it meant for him. It’s hanging in a Smithsonian gallery so there’s going to be a copy of my dad’s portrait in their archives forever.”