Steven Harrington is celebrating creativity through playful connections, intimate relationships, and a belief in the power of the image. It is not an easy task to convince the world that fruits, ampersands, geometrical objects, and folk culture can all stimulate and entertain - in a very confident and serious way. His work with collaborators as diverse as Case Studyo, collette in Paris, ACE Hotel, to name a few, is addressing deeper philosophical questions around life, growth and relationships, all with a childlike naivet'e, always questioning.
Born & based in LA, he has always been working in the feel-good atmosphere of California, and maybe it’s because of this that his work is so communicative. Full of colorful figures, humorous characters and animated objects, his work extends also from large-scale installations out of plaster and stone to hand screened prints, limited edition books, skateboards, and sculptures. The geometry and complexity in his designs often indicate just a simple thought and straightforward gesture, combined with a sensitivity for all kinds of different cultures, through a multimedia approach. We are happy that while he is influenced by popular design and illustration, he is able to direct his productivity back to the world not only through his artwork, but also through an array of projects and products that have become part of the culture themselves.
TASOS & MARINA: You grew up in Los Angeles, what is your relationship with the city, and how much time do you spend outside your studio?
Ya, I grew up in Los Angeles; I’ve been here all my life.
To be honest, at this point, it’s really hard to look at my relationship with L.A. subjectively. I feel like the city is so much a part of my day-to-day that it’s difficult to take myself out of things to observe from afar. Unlike a lot of other large metropolitan cities in the country, L.A. is extremely vast and spread out. So it’s easy to hit a good work pace and become kind of a hobbit, only interacting with the things you choose to visit. If that makes sense?
When in L.A. I typically spend my whole week inside the studio cranking away. It’s easy for me to immerse myself in work, so I have to remind myself to get outside come the weekend or once a project is completed. I think it’s still very important to see what’s happening in the city. If I don’t, then I won’t get to experience anything new outside of design and art… which means I typically just end up making art about art, and what fun is that?
What is your approach when making sculptures? What role do the different materials play in those pieces?
Each sculpture is totally different, but all of them begin with a concept and a drawing. I’ve begun to embrace drawing over the past several years, I think it is the first step to any good creative piece. Once I have one completed, then I typically try to let the materials follow the concept or the idea behind the piece. I’ve used several different mediums, creating sculptures in fiberglass and porcelain, a couple in wood, and a couple of old ones in clay.
As old as the medium seems, I still find myself in love with sculpture. It’s tangible, you can manipulate it with your bare hands, it often even takes on a scent… Something that can’t be said for a lot of digital things these days.
What is the significance of symbols in your work?
I’ve always been attracted to the visual language of symbols and graphics. I believe you can say and explore a lot with visual symbols. I love the clarity they can represent. It’s a whole language that’s psychologically embedded in all of our minds without even knowing it.
Part of me has always really dug on some of Gerhard Richter’s thinking. When asked to explain his paintings he says there’s really no point. In the simple act of discussing the paintings, you transform the paintings into language. You in a sense, construct descriptions that use words, and then you leave out the emotions that can’t be expressed with words, which typically are the most important.
I kind of believe the same thing. To explain the work through words can sometimes be very difficult… And I’m not trying to be all high-art on you, by opting to not explaining meanings. I’m just interested in tapping into what cannot be expressed through words.
If I could explain in words, then I’d be a poet or a writer, and not a visual artist.
You have worked on various collaborative projects, how has your work evolved through the collaborations you’ve done over the years?
I really dig collaborative projects; it gives me a chance to creatively work with another entity. The projects can often be challenging, but I believe that’s what helps me to grow as a creative mind and create the unexpected. I like knowing that I have no clue what the end result of any one project will be.
I think being open to the collaborations has also helped shape my work visually over the years. It’s helped to push me in new directions and paths that I would otherwise have never chosen to explore on my own.
What is your relationship with technology in relation to the hand-made process?
I love the hand-made process. More than ever I find myself wanting to paint, draw, sculpt, and over-all create things by hand. I find the process to be extremely rewarding and satisfying. Perhaps I’m secretly trying to figure out a way so I don’t have to sit in front of a computer all day long.
Regardless of the project, I always start with a drawing or sketch. From there, technology begins to influence the work, but I constantly find myself trying to create something visually tangible. I’m always asking myself what context the work fits into– is it a print, a piece of clothing, a billboard, or is it an illustration, a painting, or a sculpture? I think by asking myself those questions, the work begins to answer itself, rather than just letting technology steer the ship. I like to think, “I use technology, technology does not use me.” Which can easily happen, take Instagram for example. We’re all kind of addicted a little now, aren’t we?
Can you tell us a little bit about your pop-art brand ‘You&I’ ?
“You & I” was created to distribute personal screen-prints, sculptures, drawings, and artwork. I wanted to create an online space where people could get in direct contact with the studio here to purchase artwork and objects. I titled the brand 'You & I’ because it’s really just that simple. I think brands, companies, and things can tend to feel so large and out-of-reach these days, so I just wanted to make something extremely old-fashioned and simple… Kind of like You & I typing back and forth on keyboards right now…
You have been trained in typography & design, can you tell us which are your all time favorite logos?
That’s a difficult one! There have been so many amazing logo designers throughout the years – Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, A. Girard, Lance Wyman, etc. But if I had to choose my favorites, they would probably be (in no particular order..):
-Sam The Olympic Eagle-Designed by Bob Moore from Disney (favorite because of complete nostalgia)
-The Girl Scouts Logo designed by Saul Bass
-I heart NY logo designed by Milton Glaser
– IBM logo (illustrated version) by Paul Rand.
What was the last piece of music you listened to? When and where was that ?
I’d say the last piece of real music, I listened to, was by J.Cole. The song titled 'Be Free’ was performed live on the David Letterman show a little while back.
J.Cole was asked to perform live on the David Letterman show to promote his latest album “2015 Forest Hills Drive,” but instead performed this great track in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown last year. If you haven’t seen it you, can check it out here.