TO SEE BEYOND SIGHT: The Life of Erik Sprohge; Artist

By Tom Kraycirik

To see beyond sight. To explore connections between color and emotion. To develop visual themes that invite curiosity and introspection.

These are the directions that 89-year old Houston artist Erik Sprohge is traveling after a lifelong career dedicated to the specific demands of realistic, commercial renderings for his architectural commissions. Yet, all the while, he quietly and diligently has been the 'keeper of the flame' for his personal fine art efforts.

His volume of work ranges from representational desert and Texas rural scenes to fantastic free-form designs, exploding with sharp contrasting and complimentary colors. Some scenes feature craggy human figure melded into the rock formations or forests and bogs. Others are whimsical with crowds of sienna drawn painted figures with balloons of brilliant colors bouncing and exploding overhead. You will notice his pension for Chinese red and aqua reoccurring throughout.

His figures can be rendered as almost ikons of humans in dramatic settings or highly detailed allegories illustrating themes. He also creates three dimensional works such as a painting of a fleeing bandit chased by painted ranks of soldiers installed on a shelf in the painting itself.

The volume of his work is a travelogue of artistic experimentation and discover over a lifetime of dedicated inquiry, imagination, and execution.

Mr. Sprohge was born in Riga, Latvia. His father was working in Germany at that time, and Erik and his mother joined him shortly after he was born. Erik’s father was an architect, with a Doctor’s degree in architecture from the University of Berlin. German was the family’s primary language, but Erik’s father also spoke Russian and Latvian. His mother was a college graduate, and spoke Russian and French, as well as German and Latvian.

After five years in Germany, the family moved back to Latvia for one year. Then they moved to America.

Erik’s uncle, who worked for Shell oil, lived in Houston, and sponsored them as the family moved to Houston in 1938. His father resumed his career as an architect. The family settled in the West University area, just west of what is now Rice Village. The shopping area then was heavily forested.

The Sprohge family spoke German at home, but 6 year old Erik quickly learned English by playing with the neighborhood children. He attended West University elementary, junior high and high school. He always was naturally attracted to art, and at 16 he was awarded a scholarship to the Houston Museum School (now the Glassell School of Art). This cemented his desire to become an artist.

He had wanted to go to the Chicago Institute of Art, but the cost was prohibitive considering that he was accepted to Rice University which at that time charged no tuition to those who were accepted. He studied architecture at Rice University and supplemented his studies with courses in the off season at the University of Houston. Upon graduation at Rice in 1954, he was awarded the William Ward Watkins Traveling Fellowship which entailed touring Europe for 8 months. He recalled that much of his travel was on a Vespa motor scooter.

After his studies, he volunteered to be drafted into the U.S. Army. Because of this proficiency in German he was assigned to Germany as a company artist in Bamerhaven, Germany for two years. In true military fashion, his base commanding officer assigned him as one of his first duties to paint a 'liberated' statue of a lion to look like a leopard. And in true Sprohge fashion, he painted it green with blue spots, a foreshadowing of his more creative work to come.

Mr. Sprohge began his architectural career as an apprentice in small firms. He advanced and became a partner in Converse, Sprohge and Cox Architects in the 1970’s. As time went on, his affinity for completing 'architectural illustrations' occupied more and more of his time. These are the renderings of how the finished building will appear with trees, landscape work, streetlights, etc. The 'finished renderings' were important, especially with lenders, to verify the quality of structural appearance.

Eventually other firms and individuals began to solicit his work apart from their own working drawings as finished products. This evolved into Erik becoming an outside resource for other firms. He said he never had to advertise or promote himself as business just continued to be referred to him. Despite his commercial success as an architect he still maintained his 'flame' for producing fine art. The strict requirement of architectural drawing, however, was confining to his ever growing sensibilities toward line, color and themes.

One summer he traveled to Mexico to take courses at the Instituto de Art in San Miguel de Allende. It was not only an enriching experience, but a revelation as well. He found this atmosphere expansive and enjoyed the inviting and encouraging climate for his fine art work that he had been continually creating in his spare moments. “Mexico itself is surreal," he said. "The colors, landscape, the dress and habit of the native Mexicans are so different in appearance from the disciplined structure of our society.”

His architectural illustrations provided a living for Erik and his family’s needs, but the work eventually was not as satisfying as it once was. He gradually tired of the confines of straight lines and specific subjects  and the 'flame' of fine art burned brighter within him. By the start of the 2000’s, computer generated illustrations gradually replaced drawing chores for architectural firms. It was a good time for him to exit the industry, and tend to his fine art work completely.

Since then, he has continued his prolific outpouring of work. He is a long term member of WAS-H, contributing with his presence at competitive events and popular, well attended lecturers about his work and perspectives. He also enjoyed a good association with the William Reaves and Sarah Foltz Galleries.

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