Monday 4 March 2013

Arts Of Darkness: Steven Archer

Each line you put down should be the first line you have drawn. It's easy to get into habits, or to use the same tricks over and over, because they work. But not stretching your boundaries causes stagnation.”
Best known for his sonic output with the band Ego Likeness, Steven Archer is also a prolific artist working across a range of mediums and disciplines. Something that has been encouraged and nurtured from a young age.
“I've always done it, my mother and family were incredibly supportive, we still have drawings I did in crayons from when I was a kid.”
His work often channels the esoteric, macabre and surreal into a body of work that has seen Archer, a graduate of The Corcoran School of Art, exhibit paintings, sculpture, and mixed media pieces in in a variety of settings from galleries to conventions. In addition to this, his work has regularly regularly appeared in publications such as Weird Tales and Steampunk Magazine, and has had a children's book 'Luna Maris', and a graphic novel 'Red King Black Rook' published in recent years. With such a varied body of work, Archer is understandably reluctant to pigeon-hole his personal style.
“I guess it depends, I do a lot of mixed media work. I think that one of the recurring themes across multiple media would be found images, sounds, etc. Using those as jumping off points for developing ideas. Conceptually, everything I do is about (pretentious art statement...) creating Psychic Mirrors. By which I mean, creating work that can be interpreted by many different people in different ways without locking down into a specific narrative.”

As with any artist who
works across a lot of mediums, Archer acknowledges there is a thematic cross-fertilisation between his various works and projects, but explains that it is more about his approach rather than more literal connections.
“For me it's all the same thing. So, yes, but only because people looking from the outside tend to see it as different areas, but don't really think of them as a whole landscape.
“I find that I am drawn to most things that are excessive... For example, with my solo project ::Hopeful Machines:: I will often explore very complex sounds, and how much of that I can put in a piece of music before it becomes too much. Whereas visually, particularly with the 'Light' series, I explore the same idea, how far can I oversaturate the image before it stops working.”

Recently Archer has exhibited his most current body of work at Liam Flynn's Alehouse (Baltimore MD). This show included some pieces from his 'Light as a Form of Violence' series, which depicts the brutality of light upon its subjects. Despite the painting's often surreal depictions, the e origins of the series, as Archer explains, comes from an identifiable everyday situation.

The 'Light as a Form of Violence' series came out of the experience of driving around very early in the morning, and noticing the brutal ways the first light from the rising sun can effect you and the landscape. To be honest, the show title 'Love and Other Forms of Violence', had as much to do with the fact that the opening was on Valentines day as anything else. It was just a good way to tie it all together. I would love to give you a more profound answer to that, but there you go.”

One of Archer's most visible exhibitions (and the one that brought his art to the interviewer's attention) came about in 2008, through a chance meeting at a horror convention that would see 200 of his paintings displayed on the Weird Tales Magazine website in a series called 'Blasphemous Horrors', in which the artist indulged in a tribute to all things Lovecraftian.

“It came about because I had been kicking around the idea of doing a yearly project thing, just to get the work out there, and of course generate income. Donna and I were at a horror convention, and I happened to meet Stephen Segal who at the time was the editor for Weird Tales magazine. After talking for a very short period of time, we had one of those wonderful moments of ,'Oh! You! I know you!' when you realize that this other person, who you just met is part of the tribe. Once we both kinda realized that, we just started tossing ideas back and forth. Within a few weeks we had the project up and running.
“How successful was it? Well, you became aware of me, and now we are doing this interview, so there you go then. Beyond that, I was only able to do 200 and some change of the pictures, because I just ran out of ideas. I wrote to Stephen one day and said, 'Look at this point I'm just putting tentacles on things, and I feel like that's not fair to everyone involved.' So we stopped the project and moved on. It was an honor to have have my work in the magazine, and Stephen and I are still very good friends, and you can't really ask for more success than that.”

Archer has kept up a strong internet presence with the Ego Likeness website not only featuring the band's music but also links to art and books they have for sale. In addition to this, Archer has launched a Tumblr art blog that features new works and behind the scenes videos. Archer explains his motivation on keeping such a log of his work.

“Vanity! Ha ha!
“No, not really, I have taught art privately for years, and the videos just spawned naturally out of my strong desire to show people that nothing I am doing is special. It's not magic, it's just years and years of study and practice. I guess I want people to love and respect the act of creation as much as I do. You never know what is going to resonate with someone, and help them jump that last mental hurdle, the one that has, 'You can't do this', written on it. So I try to put out as much ,'behind the scenes', stuff as it were as possible.
“Also, I think it's important that people understand the amount of work that is involved in doing these things. That they don't just shoot fully formed out of your head with minimal fuss.”

With such a prolific workload to his name, does he ever find it difficult balancing everything?

It's a struggle, prioritizing I mean, because I hate doing things at the last minute. So I try very hard to work as far in advance of a projects due date as possible so that it's just done and I don't have to stress over it. However, often those things get pushed aside, in order to work on things that will definitely generate money in order to pay bills.”

Luckily for us though, we offered up the opportunity for this interview in a relatively quiet period before Archer embarks on more projects including finishing off the new Ego Likeness album.

I'm kind of at a lull at the moment, which is why I had time to sit down and do this interview.
The new ::Hopeful Machines:: album went off to mastering yesterday, so, that's out of the way, and the opening for ,'Love and Other Forms of Violence', was last week. Right now, my short term project is to finish up the new Ego Likeness album.
My long term project is to put together a book on being an artist. Not about method, but about learning to think properly, and the realities of surviving. How to get past creative blocks, and how to self critique.
“Interspersed with all of that, I have to make myriad other things, play shows, etc. in order to bring money in.”
The Essentials:
Intravenous Magazine: How do you typically approach creating a new piece and do you have any particular creative rituals? 
Steven Archer: I create a magic circle around the canvas made of pages of ,'The House of Leaves', which I have copied into braille by hand. By which I mean, no, not really. For me the problem solving that goes into generating the ideas and... Seeing... what it is you want the thing to be... communicating with it's Platonic ideal, as it were is as holy an act as any. But it's not ritualized. Nor should it be.Each line you put down should be the first line you have drawn. It's easy to get into habits, or to use the same tricks over and over, because they work. But not stretching your boundaries causes stagnation. For instance whenever we are writing Ego Likeness material, if we write more than a couple songs in the same vein, we get annoyed with ourselves, and move to the opposite end of the spectrum.  
IVM: What tools and techniques do you use day to day? 
SA: From a creative standpoint, my biggest tool is the viewer and how they see things. I read constantly, everything from hardcore Sci-Fi to contemporary fiction and lit. But I also read a ton about psychology and how our brains work, how we perceive the world around us. All of that gets mashed up together and becomes part of how I triage ideas.As far as painting goes, I'm very simple, for the most part I work with an extremely limited pallet. I've used the same one almost exclusively for the past 20 years. Black, white, alizarin crimson, pthalo blue and green, burnt sienna and very bright yellow.I do a lot of glazing, and on those paintings, all the colour mixing is optical, by which I mean, if I want purple, then I do a glaze of blue and then a glaze of red. Recently I have been doing much more painterly pieces, where I am working wet on wet and doing all the colour mixing on a pallet. I have also begun playing around with pallet knives, as a means of eradicating or creating texture, and implying speed and line by changing the way the paint sits onthe canvas.As far as audio goes, everything I do is in Cubase and Reason. 
IVM: Which artists have been your biggest inspirations and/or continue to inspire you and why? 
SA: I could give you a list of my favorite artists, but I'm not going to. Because these day, the things that I find truly inspiring are the artists I can't name. The ones I come across while skimming art blogs. Sometimes I will see someone's work and be completely blown away by it, then just keep scrolling. But those pieces stay in there, festering and changing my own ideas.I will say this though, 'Head on', by Cai Guo-Qiang, is the most powerful piece of work I have ever seen. And if I ever create something that is even close to the quality of that piece, both in concept and execution, I will be satisfied.

IVM: Which piece of art did you find the most challenging to create and why? 
SA: Anything Ego Likeness has ever done. Because it requires working with another person. Joining with their vision and trying to create something that works for both of you. The amount of ego loss that goes along with that is tremendous.Beyond that, any time I can maintain the surface tension of a piece. By which I mean, there is a invisible membrane that separates a painting between being almost done, and over done. And the trick is getting as close as you can to that membrane without breaking it. When I do break it, I always find myself scrambling to try to fix it, and while sometimes it can be fixed, both the painting and I know that I let my ego get too involved and broke it.

IVM: Which piece or pieces are you most proud of and why? 
SA: Anything Ego Likeness has ever done. For the exact same reason as above. Because in the end, the work I do with Donna is better than anything I could do myself.

IVM: Do you have any exhibition/art book plans for the future? 
SA: No art shows at the moment, I usually do one every three years or so, just to keep in practice. But if something comes up, I will probably take it.I'm working on two children’s books and the aforementioned art book, as well as a new Ego Likeness album and more ::Hopeful Machines:: and an album for a project called Stone burner, which has a very specific sound I want to explore.

IVM: If someone is new to you and your art, how do you feel they typically react to it? 
SA: I'm not sure, I tend to hear all the positive stuff, no one comes out of the blue and says, "You know... all this stuff you make? Yeah, it's crap." For the most part, people seem to either enjoy the things we make, or just not care about them. People rarely say, "Oh, those guys, I hate those guys." Which I guess is a good thing.

To see more of Steven Archers work and to keep-up-to-date with his exhibitions and publications please visit the Ego Likeness website.

All images © Steven Archer

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