The sun was already becoming intense when we met up with Steve Harrington at his studio near Atwater Village in Los Angeles. The exterior of his studio is painted in a matte black charcoal, a simple modern structure on a semi-residential, unremarkable street. Harrington wears many hats as an art director, a designer, and an artist. It’s often times hard to see where one division starts and where one ends, though. His passion and dedication to create is apparent, and definitely deserves the received attention and respect he has gotten for his work over the past years.
Steven Harrington’s art work can be hyper-colorful, while seemingly drawing influences from the street artists on Venice Beach. Elements of 80’s postmodernism and airbrushed playfulness are blended with a simple ”feel good” California 60‘s vibe. It’s hard not to smile when looking at his work. His art has been shown in American and European galleries, and he has recently collaborated with Generic Surplus, designing a shoe along with a loose narrative based on the “crystal skulls.”
We traveled by car up into the hills of South Pasadena, a nearby suburb of Los Angeles to Steven’s home. It’s the perfect place to watch a Californian sunset. On the way out, I found a quote handwritten by his girlfriend on a small piece of paper, taped to their mirror. It reminded me of the conversation that Steven and I just had, relating to the ideas of creation, death, along with “the crystal skulls.” It stated “Real authentic change emerges only from a place of deep focus and intention.” Well said.
Were you born in Los Angeles?
I grew up in East County Los Angeles, out in La Verne. It is a small suburb located just 30 minutes east, by Pomona, closer to the hills in the East Valley.
Did you enjoy growing up here?
Yes, growing up in the suburbs here, definitely. Every time I leave now for business trips or travel, I definitely realize how much I loved growing up here in Southern California.
What were your first big jobs?
Initially, it was for Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine, and a bunch of other traditional print magazines, illustrations for the stories, juxtaposing images next to the stories. It was like 500 dollar jobs, everyone once in a while there were one or two thousand dollar jobs, and eventually it grew out of that.
In your work, there seems to be a strong Californian vibe present.
Yeah I get that, its actually interesting because I have gotten that in the last three or four years. I had never really thought about that, but as I have been told that continually, I’ve began to look back at the work, and scratch my head as to ‘why.’
I think a large part of where that comes from is the sun in California. I feel that the sunshine and the weather here is influential in what I do, and what I make day to day, versus the East Coast, or even Europe, or traveling to France. In Paris, the light is just so completely different. In Paris, there is very much a winter. But in California, it is that one kind of place within the State or the country, where you just get beautiful sunshine year round.
What does the name National Forest Design, your creative consultancy, refer to?
It is just an intuitive creative name. We were just sitting around, and we came up with National Forest, and connected with it, and this idea that it brought along good vibes, and that so many people have great connotations with this idea of a national forest. We also liked that you had to scratch your head and think about it, and want people to be interested.
Your recently designed shoes for a company called Generic Surplus in Los Angeles, and you made a video to accompany it.
Generic Surplus has been really great sponsoring me as an artist. They had been asking me what would be the ideal shoe, so I designed this shoe from the ground up, which was very cool, because I had never done this sort of thing before. Initially, I was thinking I wanted to do a hiking boot, remember the brand Hi-Tec? So we came up with all these different ideas, and I finally decided I wanted to do a boot, like a mariachi boot, basically a boot that meets a desert shoe. Something you could wear that is functional, but also has a story.
I have been working with this on-going desert theme, because a lot of that is that we essentially live in a desert basin. Even though Los Angeles is not quite technically a desert, it still is surrounded by it. I’ve liked using the barren landscape as a vessel to speak within.
Do you go out to Joshua Tree a lot?
Yes, lately, we have been for art projects and things. Its really interesting, we have just naturally started to go out there.
Where do you stay when you are out there?
I think the name of it is called “The Palms” or maybe its called 29 Palms. The place with the hot tubs, and the boat. And several other randoms, and then sometimes at The Ace.
Do you believe in the power of the crystals, or are you a new age person?
No, not really, I just thought it was really funny and quirky. I came up with this idea that I wanted to come up with my own crystal skull, and it would be a representation of what I thought about the crystal skull. I was fascinated because I had heard about this through pop culture, Indiana Jones, through Hollywood films.
In the end, it comes back to this idea of the artifact and the simple act of creation, loosely talking about creation and death. I realized how that story has influenced contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst with his piece on the diamond skull, which was completed a few years ago. And it was more about this sense of believing, investing time, thought and energy.
Thank you, Steven for this nice interview!