Jeff Eisenberg creates almost Rorschach-like images that hover somewhere between structural vector flights of futuristic fancy and strange biomorphic organisms. Conducted on multiple layers of mylar, they could almost be strange architectural blueprints for a sci-fi movie. He also works in the less common medium of sound installation. All inspired by automatic-writing creative exercises, the works have a strange, abstracted linguistic impulse. Read the full interview detailing Jeff’s studio practice, sources of inspiration and his unique brainstorming process.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into creating art?
I got into it making super 8 movies in college. I hung out with a group of friends who did that and they introduced me to it. I liked making short films but I didn’t really click with the medium, so I started taking art classes and exploring other ways to be visually creative. I wound up majoring in sculpture, which I kept doing after college for a few years before concentrating more on painting and drawing.
What’s your creative process like, from the start of getting inspired to create a work, to its completion? I read that you use automatic writing- can you walk us through this brainstorm/inspiration exercise, how it manifests itself in its work and how you came to use this tool?
My creative process differs depending on the projects I’m working on, but they all have something to do with the built environment. Some of the projects I do are more an immediate reaction to something in the built environment, some kind of riff on it, and are pretty intuitive. Other projects involve a specific process, something more along the lines of a conceptualized procedure that relates to the kind of image I want to make. That’s the case for the automatic writing. That relates to a specific project I’ve been working at for a few years now, making different series of drawings that explore contemporary and visionary architecture, and automatic writing is the first step I use in that process. The automatic writing I do isn’t as stream of consciousness as people usually think, what I do is more guided. I start by writing about a place that I have a personal connection to in some way, and I like to write about places because they are also public in their meaning. I write everything I associate with that place, including all the stuff I get from popular culture, but I also look for the more weird and subjective associations I have about that place, and I’ll play a game with myself by asking myself a bunch of questions to prompt these weirder, subjective associations. For example: I might ask if the place were a food what would it be, or if it was one of my friends which friend, or maybe if it was an animal or another place even what would it be-things like that. Sometimes I have a clear answer to these questions; sometimes I get nothing and have to move on to another question. The only rule to this game is that I have to be totally honest and really dig deep to find the answer, and that answer has to feel true to me no matter how absurd it is. The whole purpose of using the automatic writing is to give myself a written list of imagery. The written list gives me a place to begin with, it gives me imagery I can start to build the drawings out of by literally finding visual examples of that list of imagery and collaging with bits and pieces of the images.
What’s a typical day like for you in your studio? A typical week? Do you set a schedule for yourself or how do you organize your creative process?
Depends. If I have a show coming up then the typical week can be one long blur of drawing. My drawings take a long time to do no matter what the project is. There’s usually a really strict schedule that I have to keep if I want to get the drawings done on time, and there’s always a lot of push and pull with the process, even with the drawing projects that are more procedural. I’m always changing things around because no matter how much pre-planning I do I still have to draw my way to a solution, I can’t anticipate it. During times when I don’t have a show on the horizon then it’s looser. I’ll experiment a lot with new ideas, new kinds of images, try out new materials, different scales, researching, sketching a lot.
Your drawings are incredibly evocative- almost like Rorschach inkblot tests- they seem to oscillate between organic, architectural, even computer generated forms, calling to mind everything from machines, the natural world, places, landscapes and beyond- how do you view the interplay between figuration and abstraction within your works? Do you enjoy this kind of liminal space the works occupy? Or how do you conceive of the imagery?
The drawings that use the automatic writing have a digital component to them. The collage part is done on the computer. I take the visual examples from the automatic writing list and work those on the computer, collaging the bits and parts that way, then I draw it all out by hand, using rulers and French curves, but also free handing parts of it. My goal for doing this is that the drawings have a hybrid effect of looking partly organic and partly inorganic or machine like. I definitely want these drawings to hang in that liminal space you mentioned. I want the viewer to bring a certain amount of their own experiences to the work and fill in some of the gaps in the narrative, bring their own sets of associations to them-see all sorts of engineered forms in them. So designing the drawings to go back and forth between figuration and abstraction helps with that, and it also gets at this idea of fantasy-that the drawings seem to describe specific things, but then they collapse into semi-abstraction, they don’t really describe anything specifically, say the way a traditional architectural drawing would. Hopefully they become what you want them to become.
Do you refer to source imagery when creating your works, or do you pull strictly from your imagination?
That’s kind of hard to pin down. I guess both. I do look at specific source images and think back on memories I have about places and environments I’ve seen-through real life contact or through movies, books, pictures. But when I make my work I let my imagination run wild-I rarely visually quote a source image directly.
It looks as though your drawings are mounted on a three-dimensional box- why do you choose to present your images in this way?
Actually they’re not, but they do look that way. Those drawings are actually made on multiple sheets of double matte Mylar, usually drawn on both sides of each sheet and then all the sheets are layered. There are usually 2 or 3 sheets total. This gives it a quasi-3D effect and also some atmospheric perspective. The drawings are usually framed in a deep, recessed frame.
Your older works contained more direct references as far as images- logs of timber, brick walls, caves and house-like structures…what made you want to shift to further abstracted imagery?
A lot of people think those drawings are older, I know they look that way. But actually they were done at the same time as the Mylar drawings and they’re an ongoing project too. Those drawings have more to do with architecture of the personal scale and the intersection of different narratives within a built environment. I’m interested how different sorts of people come to similar solutions or strategies for how they design their own space, what that intersection might look like. What I mean by that is that I draw the images so that the viewer is left wondering who built them and for what purpose. So for example: did the Una-bomber build this thing or some visionary hippie from Bolinas? I guess in that way they’re liminal like the other sets of drawings.
I haven’t seen your audio projects in person- so it’s hard for me to conceptualize how they “sound” but can you talk a little bit about them?
The audio projects are ongoing experiments with sound art. I’m not trained in any way in this area, but I love sound art. I finally got into making my own when I did the first set of Mylar drawings. A lot of people were curious about the automatic writing and wanted me to pinpoint where on each drawing this or that from the writing correlated. But the whole purpose for the automatic writing is really just to give me a starting point-the viewer’s imagination is the bigger point of the drawings. I finally decided to play around with people’s expectations, so I created an audio tour. But instead of listeners hearing me speak words from the writing or me explaining the writing and how it relates to each drawing in the series, they hear me making sound effects with my voice, somewhat edited and manipulated to sound like sonic landscapes. The sounds that I made with my voice correlated to the automatic writing, so this required more writing in order to figure out what kinds of sounds I associated with the imagery in the original automatic writing. The final sound is pretty convoluted but the piece is kind of funny and it reinforces how hermetic my process is, rather then just give it all away.
How do you see your audio projects and drawings relating to each other?
Every since the audio tour project I’ve been pairing sound projects with each series of Mylar drawings that I’ve done, finding different ways to approach each new sound piece and using these projects as a way to develop my skills and knowledge of sound art. The one I just completed goes with my most recent set of Mylar drawings for a show I have in September in Lisbon. This one uses six Heralds’ Horns that I bought from an online medieval shop that sells stuff to Ren-fair folk. The sounds coming out of the horns were built from national anthems that relate to countries I did automatic writing about. That automatic writing was used to create six big drawings for that show. So the relationship between this sound project and the new drawings isn’t so direct as it was with the audio tour piece, but still conceptually relates. I think that that’s what’s most important to me about the relationship between the sound and the drawings, that there’s some kind of conceptual connection.
How do you continue to stay inspired?
I enjoy how things are layered and inter-connected. I stay inspired by focusing on that.