“STEVEN CERIO” interviewed by Jen for THE POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL
1 What meaning do you hope people find in your work?
Meaning is a trap. You can only become enlightened by your own phenomena. I’m not a symbolist. I’m not concerned with communicating a specific thought or personal insight; I try to convey energy. I see my work like everyone else does. It confuses me in the same way it confuses the viewer when I do it correctly. What interests me about life and art isn’t systems or exacting communication, that’s someone else’s job. I’m interested in the freedom it finds for itself, its synchronicities, magical coincidences and strange overlapping of events. The more traveling I do, the more talking I do, the more drawings I do, the more ground I walk over the happier I am. That’s why I’m here to do. That’s what my work means.
2. Your drawings and illustrations have an intrinsically childlike sense of play. How have you developed this?
Increasingly since I began drawing seriously in my teens, the ideas I was dealing with revolved around glee and a preternatural harmony expressed in my art to this day. In 1998 Juxtapoz magazine described my efforts as an artist as techniques to “synthesize joy.” I have in fact always been fascinated at how images depicting joy and happiness are located almost entirely on products aimed at child consumers. I wanted to engage with this activity, while providing it to a larger demographic. I believe that our adult society is pleased with its irony, sardonic wit and grim prophecy which it presents as intellectual property while continuously overlooking “childish” joy and pleasures: the sensations that each child and adult crave in perpetuity. To Quote George Petros from his introduction to my article in Seconds Magazine “it sometimes seems a shame that his innocent abandon is wasted on sour, seen-it-all adult audience.” To the contrary, I’ve taken a strange pleasure in adults finding the dark irony and violence they crave so strongly in my work when it wasn’t drawn there. It reinforces my assessment of this behavior that repulses me so.
I have always chosen animals and personified objects to express the emotion and intelligence in my work whenever possible. A smile on a flower shows a happy flower, a smiling man carries with him the history and behavior of his species, which is a lot of extra baggage I don’t care to lug around in my art.
2. What inspires you?
I play music in continuity while I’m awake. I like long, eventful, dense but meditative pieces. Captain Beefheart, The Residents, Can, John Coltrane, Soft Machine and Henry Cow all excel at that. I get a lot of pleasure from my collection postcards of bridges, freeze frame photographs of splashing water, time lapse films, antique squeaky toys, and cereal boxes as well. When I need to recharge nothing does it better than a couple of weeks hiking and driving in Arizona. I mail myself home boxes of cacti, beautiful stones and any toy totem pole I can get my hands on. In two weeks I can usually shoot at least four to five thousand photos. South Western Arizona is the strangest and most beautiful experience you can get without traveling space or ingesting a weird hippy chemical.
3. The faces and animals in your work seem both diverse and highly stylized. Where do the wide-eyed, snaggle-toothed casts of characters come from?
They are cute little things trying to have fun, be happy and find enlightenment just like the rest of us but smooth and shiny like living gummy brand products. The cast comes to me one by one. I can’t force it, I’ve tried. They insinuate themselves into my sketches. They come from a place in my head where nothing bad ever happens.
4. Explain what “surrational’ is and how you employ the concept in your art.
I don’t believe a person can approach a more direct dialog with the world than through presenting one’s own iconography and visual fetishes. My reoccurring characters and coincidences are meant to conjure an affect in the viewer with an application of what I refer to as “magical coincidence.” Magical Coincidence is surrational decision making. Surrationality is the pure instinct in the act of creating uncalculated or ironic surrealism. It defies common rationality. Traditional surrealism utilized juxtaposition of disparate elements. The surrational decisions in my work are made by intuitive thought: intuitions that may confuse me while pleasing my sense of drama. I first decided to utilize this method. After a dream I had in which various “Magical Coincidences” occurred. In this dream I found myself kneeling in a muddy field with my arms elbow deep in the wet soil pulling one strange artifact out of the ground after another. Each object was a natural occurrence of vegetable and root growth that formed impossibly close likenesses to rabbits, giraffes including a realistic and highly detailed bust of Abraham Lincoln as well. I peered up at one point and was confronted with an immense rabbit made entirely of various different colored jellies. When the sun shined through her body it made beautiful colored projections all over my arms. I don’t claim to understand these cryptic dreams, nor do I try, but I do recognize the elation I felt. When I accomplish this technique correctly I feel the same sensation: a blend of enlightened confusion and gleeful discovery.
5. When did you begin drawing?
My Mom kept a series of dismembered head collecting, ten story tall green skinned witches I did in kindergarten. The first memory I have is drawing one of those pieces in magic marker. I’ve spent a lot of my life drawing since then. I took a break somewhere around nine or ten to prepare myself for a life as a fantastically eccentric botanist. I still fantasize about being a botanist one day! I have enough cacti and succulents to keep me busy with plants though.
6. If you created an illustration of your life so far, what would it look like?
I like to believe that every drawing I do is the complete sum of all of my experiences up to the very moment my newest piece is finished. I like to think that maybe falling off my bike in the second grade is in the drawing somewhere near to a memory of a delicious slice of lemon meringue pie I ate last week. I can’t see it but sometimes I can feel it. I do know one thing for sure though; it’ll have bumble bees all over it!
7. What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle in your artistic career?
To get my creativity gland to work in tandem with my business gland.
8. Describe the ‘zine scene and your involvement in it. I moved to NYC in 1989 and landed an assistant job at Psychedelic Solution Gallery. I grabbed a cheap apartment (they were all cheap back then) and got to work on my portfolio. I drew every night until I couldn’t focus, on lunch breaks and on the subway to and from work. Before any paying clients opened their doors to me I got my chops together contributing to a multitude of ‘zines and independent art and music magazines like EXIT and Chemical Imbalance. It was a very exciting time for me. I was published with many well known figures like Robert Williams, Joe Coleman and Raymond Pettibon which was quite thrilling for a twenty one year old suburban kid. I was hooked.
9. What future projects are you working on?
I’m working on two children’s books, putting the finishing touches on my web site (happyhomeland.com), illustrating the texts of thirty eight authors for my next book, designing a series of ipod shells for MacSkinz, teaching adjunct at Syracuse University, recording drum tracks for a cd with my band “Atlantic Drone Quartet” and preparing a new series of drawings for my next show.
10. What is your personal definition of Art?
Great art looks like, acts like and smells like a prayer to me and bad art looks like, acts like and smells like a curse, that’s how I meter it anyway.