Steven Harrington lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Aside from owning and operating National Forest Design with fellow artist Justin Krietemeyer, he still finds time to work on both commissioned and self-inspired art projects of his own. Influenced by images, fashion and graphics discovered in Time Life Encyclopedias from 1965-1972, thrift stores, and The Moody Blues, his art might be termed contextual objectivism. That is, he views each piece he creates as a tangible object that is part and parcel of a larger context; the object helps define the context and the context helps define the object. Whatever feel or meaning the observer takes away from the piece belongs to the observer. Nothing is shoved down his or her throat. Discovery is the key. Some of his most recent projects include a four board series for Burton snowboards, contributions to the French clothing line Sixpack, and a series of silkscreen prints based on the idea of â€œcommunity.â€ He has exhibited work in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal, Tokyo, Melbourne and Barcelona.
I heard you like digging through thrift stores for materials and inspiration. Is this still the case?
Yes Itâ€™s still the case. I find thrift stores, used book stores and used record stores to be very inspiring. They are like time capsules filled up with forgotten colors, papers, typography, and other interesting objects that evoke a sense of time and place and social context. My Mom used to frequent thrift stores when I was a kid, and I hated them then. But now I like to think of thrift store visits as being right up there next to seeing an interesting art exhibition or reading a good book or hearing a good song.
I would say that you would prefer a more tactile finish over a purely digital one? true? and why do you think?
It depends on the project. Sometimes I prefer a more tactile finish and sometimes I prefer a cleaner, digital look. I think I prefer most of my personal artwork to have a more tactile finish because thatâ€™s what I can relate to most in the world. I like things that feel like they were created by human beings. I want my art to evoke a sense of connectivity with the time, place and the context in which it was created. In the end, nothing really stands alone; I enjoy celebrating the connections that art makes. But when we design things at National Forest it depends on the project and the concept. We make things for clients, which usually means creating pieces with very specific intentions and purposes, so we have to stay open to all types of aesthetic directions.
How would you say your style has evolved (or is currently evolving)?
My approach changes with my interests.
A lot of my newest work has been getting more hands-on and experimental. I think this is because I already spend so much time behind a computer at National Forest. By the time I get home to the art studio I want to get away from the computer and use my arms and hands and physical mediums and things. My art making is becoming more of a physical activity. Interacting with tangible, image-making â€œstuffâ€, aside from my computer, is becoming more and more important to me.
Do you separate your time between the studio National Forest and personal works, or does it all merge together?
Yes, I work on most of my own art independent of the design studio.
National Forest is a full-service collaborative design studio with several art directors, designers and freelancers working together as a team. We design and direct projects according to our clients needs. Aside from National Forest, I construct self-inspired art projects based on personal experiences, philosophies and ideas. My artwork has a much different reason for existing; it is a projection of me and the time, places and experiences that have shaped and are still shaping me.
What was a project you were most pleased with last year?
The â€œGtwinâ€ Snowboard series I designed for Burton.
I hand painted a skateboard for an art show auction where 100% of the proceeds were donated to the Faribault Skate park Association to build a skate park in Minnesota. One of the sponsored riders from Burton Snowboards saw the art show auction online and really liked my painted skateboard deck. I was later asked to design a four board series based on the aesthetic of the hand painted board created for the auction. It felt good to help build a skate park and design a snowboard series at the same time.
and what was your least favorite?
Learning Spanish because it never happened.
Are you organized with the ideas you are wanting to execute? or do you make it up on a daily?
Iâ€™d like to think Iâ€™m organized with my ideas and thoughts, but that never seems to be the case. I am an avid day-dreamer so I guess one could say I think up ideas on a daily basis but getting it down on paper seems to be the trick.
Your finished works seem to flow so organically and natural. Is the process a natural flow too? Do you doodle while on the phone and end up with a masterpiece or is it more excruciating than people may think?
It varies from piece to pieceâ€”sometimes it flows, sometimes itâ€™s like squeezing that last tiny little glob of toothpaste out of the tube. Making art and images has always been a challenge, but I guess thatâ€™s why I like it so much. If it were too easy Iâ€™d probably get bored and move on to making drums and tambourines or something. The ratio of perspiration to inspiration varies from piece to piece, but there is always work involvedâ€”always.
Have you been able to carve out a happy living? Or has it been a struggle?
It can be a struggle balancing everything out, but I think thatâ€™s lifeâ€¦.
Itâ€™s been a very happy living.