Sometimes you want to go out, and sometimes you want to stay home and hang with your cats. Local artist Stephen Eichhorn, 34, makes collages that tap into the psyches of oddball homebodies. His first art book, the straightforward and as-advertised Cats & Plants (Zioxla), released in July 2017, is the rare coffee-table text that has both imagination and a sense of humor. It was featured in the Guardian and quickly sold out a 2,000-copy run.
Stephen Eichhorn: Ceaseless Wheel, opening this Saturday, is the artist’s debut solo show at the West Loop’s Carrie Secrist Gallery. In addition to new work, the event will also feature a book signing of the second edition of Cats & Plants, which Eichhorn and his wife printed and distributed themselves (in another limited edition of 2,000 copies). In advance of Ceaseless Wheel, Eichhorn spoke by phone about his career so far and what visitors can anticipate at this new exhibit.
I love cats, I love plants, but I’ve never thought about doing anything creatively with both of those things simultaneously. How did you get started doing this?
In terms of collage making, I don’t use National Geographic or Life, or those things that are ubiquitous in the collage-making world. So in the quest for source material, I came across these books that have pretty amazing photos of cats that are set up like still-lifes and are pretty odd. One summer, in between projects, I had a collection of houseplant images that I really didn’t know what to do with, as well as all the cat books. And for some reason it made sense.
The way that house plants and cats are photographed, there are a lot of similarities in terms of how quirky and domestic they are. So it’s like, oh, this made sense, at least to me. It started out kind of as a joke: I’d make the more formal collage work, and then I’d take a break and make 10 to 15 smaller cat collages. It was something that was a fun exercise in the studio, but anybody who came by like, Yeah, this is great … What’s going on with these cats?
Are you looking to get away from cats and plants, or maybe pursue it even further?
That’s a tricky one. At the moment, there’s been a lot of cats and plants, but I am definitely looking forward to a break. With this show, there will not be cats present in any of that work. And if anything even with the release of the second printing of the book, I don’t think I’ve made any new cat collage work in the past couple of months. I’m not even sure if I’ve done anything in 2018.
So what will be different at Ceaseless Wheel?
It will have quite a bit of new, larger work. There’s going to be some large seven-by-seven-foot panels. All of this new work will be pulling from a variety of references that mostly relate to the euphorbia sub-family within cacti and succulents.
Why those plants in particular?
Within any of this work, it’s usually the imagery that creates these rabbit holes I go down, where I’ll find some orchid books, and then I’ll get obsessed with orchids. I found these euphorbia books and got very interested in that, because some of them look more traditionally cacti, and then some of them are succulent, but they all have kind of this underlying poisonous-danger facet to them.
Plants mean a variety of things to different cultures and people. I like the idea that people tend to project themselves onto plants. There’s this newer-found interest in houseplants which has come up in the past I would say five to 10 years, and also gardening and a kind of collector-cultivation obsession. That definitely is an underlying thing within my work and even within the process of making this stuff, because it is such obsessive gathering of materials.
Do you have another job, or are you a full-time artist right now?
Full-time artist. It’s been amazing. That’s been the goal, and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to see that happen and that it’s growing and becoming more sustainable.
Do you think living in Chicago is one of the reasons you’re able to be a full-time artist?
It’s certainly helped. I’ve been here for about 15 or 16 years now. I came to Chicago to go to SAIC for undergrad and focused on drawing and sculpture. So the collage-making stuff is new, or relatively new — it’s not something that I had any real interest in until after school. But the longer you’re here, the more you familiarize yourself with the local community of artists and gallerists. That community is amazing and has certainly made being a working artist a reality for me.
Stephen Eichhorn: Ceaseless Wheel opens Saturday, November 10, at Carrie Secrist Gallery through December 22, 2018.