I first came across Stephen Eichhorn’s work about the same time 01 Magazine was coming to fruition. He was doing these incredible cat collages with plants that was incomparable to any collage style I had seen at the time. The authenticity behind his art was mesmerizing, there was a sense of humour and vibrant energy that set his work apart. I became instantly obsessed.
Stephen Eichhorn is an American artist born in Lenoir, North Carolina. He picked up a sketchbook at the age of six and has been devoted to his craft since. His artistry has a unique style that is instantaneously recognizable. Visually, it has a feeling of psychedelic 70’s pop art, but with a modern prominence to the work. I’ve stumbled upon his pieces through the years and can’t deny my own personal draw to them. I had the chance to converse with Stephen recently about his artistic path. We discussed his influences such as Azuma Makoto, working long days at his studio, the philosophy of the hypnopompic state, and of course, about his ‘cat collages’.
Interview by Redia Soltis
Copy Editor by Tina Shabani
Layout by Jennifer Latour
Where were you raised?
I was born in Lenoir, North Carolina and raised in Dayton, Ohio.
Where do you reside now?
Chicago, IL. I’ve been living here for 13 years now! I moved here to attend the the Art Institute of Chicago and to study drawing and sculpture.
Do you recall any significant childhood memories that you feel helped guide you toward your interest in art?
When I was around 6, I would go to the opera with my grandmother on a monthly basis. I had a small sketchbook and drew all the scenes throughout.That was really the true start to honing my creative potential in art, paying attention to detail and patience in craft.
When did you have a self realization that you wanted to pursue a career in art?
Around the same time as the monthly opera visits with my grandmother started. I’ve been pretty steadfast on making it happen, and everything has unfolded naturally since.
Would you call yourself a multidisciplinary artist?
Yeah, I’ve been making collages and sculpture for the past 10 years. Most of the sculptural work is derived from my collage work and from when my wife and I made jewellery as a side project years ago. I took some of the technical skills and materials from jewellery making and integrated them into my sculptural practice.
My sculptural practice is another vehicle for me to visually communicate through. Most of my sculptures are composed of fake plastic flowers and jewelry components from the 70’s-80’s coated in a mixture of graphite and gloss medium varnish. The sculptural work is a pretty time consuming process that is very repetitious. There is also a jewelry making portion that involves a lot of hand work and coating in black graphite mixture.
There’s a lot of similarities between collage and sculpture, at least when it comes to the making process. Both are found component based that I manipulate in the studio and both have the same dark beauty that most of my work has.
Can you tell me about your fascination with cats? How did the infamous cat collages come to be?
The Cats and Plants series started as a joke. I made the first ones in between making my floral works with imagery coming from a collection of a growing cat books in the studio. I kept finding them while looking for other source material. Eventually there was a critical mass of imagery and I couldn’t let them just sit there any more.
I don’t really think of the cat pieces when I’m making other work, but they were a stepping stone to making the cactus cluster works and fades. Before that I was working on white or black backed work and the cats loosened up my practice. They were born out of my love for cat imagery and visceral response to the portraits of these animals.
Do you own a cat?
I have a petite lady cat named Kevin.
What is it about the city you live in that resonates with your art practices?
I love Chicago! Working and living in a cityscape coupled with long austere winters has furthered my interest in the “natural” and structure of landscape. The climate necessitates an indoor culture that can be found in museums, alternative art spaces/ galleries, conservatories, small restaurants and bars. The cultivation of these spaces with Chicago’s architectural history has shaped my outlook and navigation of a city on a whole.
I live and work in a 120 year old two story greystone building that my wife and I recently renovated. The domestic space is on the second floor and the first is entirely devoted to studio space. I spend most of my day in the studio but am so close to our living space that time between the two can get blurred. We also spend time at the lake shore or in nature when the weather is warm. Most of my studio time is spent alone, so I like to balance solitude with the energy of walking around the city.
That’s pretty convenient and ideal that your studio is close to where you reside. How many days do you spend there a week?
I try to spend Monday through Friday in the studio and on the weekends I’m down there more sporadically. My wife has a typical 9 to 5 schedule, so I try to be around and not constantly working when she’s free. It’s a tempting challenge when the studio is down a flight of stairs!
Do you have daily rituals prior to going to your studio?
I have a pretty typical morning ritual/routine of coffee, feeding and walking our two toy poodles Lulu and Francis, catch-up on emails etc.
Depending on what my day looks like, I have a couple of studio rituals before starting the day. If I am cutting out collage components, I’ll take a couple of hours prepping materials and gathering the images to avoid constantly stopping or going back and forth looking for source imagery.
It’s a time consuming process, so it’s important to get efficient in assembling the components for future use. In terms of creating a piece, I have a similar ritual of taking the time to prep the space and materials before beginning in the studio.
Can you tell us about artists that have influenced your work?
Kustaa Saski’s “Hypnopompic” tapestry work . They are a psychedelic, visual overload of natural imagery and pattern:
The collection title, Hypnopompic refers to a state of sensory confusion leading out of sleep, when the state of awakening gets mixed with the dream world into a surreal reality. It is an exceptional state of consciousness, in which one may experience the presence of, or see creatures and animals, such as spiders, monkeys and insects. Hypnopompic state has also been affiliated with visual delusions caused by migraine. These graphic patterns, designs, and textures are thought to have contributed to the traditions of ornamentation, mosaic, and textile.
Azuma Makoto’s floral arrangements are so amazing and a source of inspiration for my own work.
How did the collaboration with Zioxla for ‘Strange Plants’ come to be?
Zioxla did a short interview with me for theworldsbestever.com artist eats series. Not too long after that she approached me about the feature in ‘Strange Plants’ and we’ve been collaborating on prints ever since.
What was the last concert that blew your mind?
Any time I have the chance to see Rob Aiki Aubrey Lowe perform, it’s really stunning and mind blowing. He’s a friend so I say this with a self-aware-bias; his music is remarkable.
In your thoughts, who do you think is the most important figure in art right now and why?
This is such an impossible question to answer and for a such a wonderful reason, there’s so many important figures that are living and passed away in art that I can’t pinpoint one person as the most important.
You mentioned that you have a couple of shows that will be coming up in the most recent future. Can you talk to us more about these shows?
I have a solo show with Johalla Projects in Chicago opening in October. It will be my second show with the gallery. I am also working on all new collage work and sculpture revolving around rocks and minerals. I’m really excited to start back up on some new sculpture pieces; it’s been about three years since I’ve made anything sculptural work.
There’s also a January 2017 show I’m still in the midst of planning with Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio. That whole show will revolve around orchids, so I’ll be showing a collection of older works coupled with new orchid pieces on mirrored brass and more traditional collaged panels.
Stephen Eichhorn has 3 solo exhibitions coming up:
.September at Drawing room: www.chicagoathletichotel.com
.October at Johalla Projects: www.johallaprojects.com
.January at Franklin Park Conservatory www.fpconservatory.org