The kaleidoscopic colors, murals, and graffiti of Los Angeles imbue the city and its inhabitants with a sense of infinitude, freedom juxtaposed with the bustling realities of city life. Californian weather, much like the Californian temperament, is expectantly pleasant, laidback and colorful, the main character for many of its natives. Throughout his career, artist Steven Harrington has tapped into the visual language of pop iconography, visual repetition and the uncanny mirroring of his native city through illustrative and sculptural mediums.
Often described as psychedelic-Pop Art, Harrington’s acid-infused illustrations seem to grin in the face of chaos — bold, large-scale paintings and sculptures that personify familiar fixtures of LA. The palm tree, for instance, is a visual motif often deployed by Harrington and seemingly renders fantastical beings in the City of Angels.
Harrington’s most recent showing in LA, the 2019 solo exhibition “Magic Hour” held in Downton Los Angeles, showcased an array of paintings, larger-than-life sculptures and black and white canvases dominated by Harrington’s cartoon language. In commemoration of “Magic Hour,” Harrington developed a permanent mural for 3D Retro accompanied by the release of a limited-edition BE@RBRICK. Harrington has continually seized the opportunity to showcase art as a mercurial expansion of space and time.
With the emergence of digital art entering spaces that traditionally exalt physical and tangible mediums, the question stands if not when but how technology will continue to radicalize the experience and creation of art. The ASUS Vivobook 13 Slate OLED, the brand’s latest state-of-the-art laptop intended for graphic-intensive tasks, responds to the emerging demand for technology to accommodate myriad avenues of creation and the ability to customize artistic workflows. Steven Harrington speaks to HYPEBEAST on working with the tech brand to design the ASUS Vivobook 13 Slate OLED Steven Harrington Edition and the inspiration behind his graphic design language.
HYPEBEAST: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your ASUS Vivobook and the process behind your design?
Steven Harrington: The ASUS Vivobook is kind of my first time applying artwork or my illustrative imagery to a digital device of this kind. So I thought it would be really interesting to play around with my world, almost meeting this visual representation of the future and tech. On the product itself, you’ll see this really playful world kind of meeting this space-like scene. It’s my way of playing around and being inspired by the possibilities of technology. Being a visual artist, it’s something that I use quite frequently within the production of my own paintings, drawings and products. So I thought it would be really cool to reflect the dreamlike qualities of being able to create a tech device.
As a creator, how does the ASUS Vivobook aesthetically align with your personal taste and how does it enhance your creative process?
The device itself is definitely easy to transport around, and I definitely like the fact that it can move pretty seamlessly between using it as a tablet device and a laptop. I’m quite often drawing directly on the devices themselves these days. You can seamlessly live between drawing, to using it like a laptop, to using it like a tablet. There’s something really cool and kind of freeing about that. It’s almost like a digital sketchbook.
Have you found inspiration in being able to create on the go and having a customizable experience to your workflow?
It’s like this dream project where I got to create this kind of custom sketchbook, but in this case it’s kind of like a custom digital sketchbook. Being visual, I’m always interested in how the paper feels within the book. If it’s thick, does watercolor seep through it? Can I draw with paint on the sketchbook? All those tactile qualities for me are very important when it comes to drawing on the go and creating on sketchbooks. And so for this particular piece, I wanted to kind of give it a tactile quality. We’re so used to seeing tech presented as ‘clean.’
On this particular project, I really let myself play around with customizing the tactile qualities. Why can’t we print on the outside of the book? What would that look like? In my case, maybe it’s not a full wrap, but it almost looks like stickers were printed from a distance, like somebody customized it. In actuality, [they’re] screen printed graphics. I think it’s kind of important for me to feel excited about using the actual device.
In those moments where you need to decompress from the studio, how do you connect with natural environments?
Especially within the last several years online and digitally, I’ve found it extremely important and inspiring to get my mind out of that space. It’s this big shift that I think we all [experience] — almost like dimensional, physical things around us have taken on a lot more meaning. Recently, I feel like you kind of get down into nature, you get out on a walk — it can be a simple fleeting [moment] that you can find meaning in.
We’re so used to seeing and experiencing things online and digitally that it’s almost like those real experiences, in a sense, almost become hyperreal and over rendered. It’s those two experiences feeding off of each other and informing each other, both aesthetically and through the experience itself.
As physical and digital realms in the art world continue to merge, how have you leveraged digital mediums to benefit your creative discipline?
Like everything that I do, it always starts with a pencil on pad — a loose sketch and free association — just kind of like a brain dump. And then, from there, once I am creating ideas and concepts, regardless of what the project is, there’s a digital device or an application where I can refine the imagery itself. Growing up, I was really aware of the edges of a piece of paper, and that’s a really big part of the process of sketching. You’re constantly drawing, and you’re aware of that boundary, that box, those borders — versus nowadays, when I jump on a device to start creating, those edges no longer exist. It becomes this endless [space].
In the past, you were constantly crumpling stuff up if you’re embarrassed by it. Now the process is like a stream of thought, and I think there’s something that’s really liberating to the mind when it comes to developing ideas and creating. It’s more about the ideas and that stream of consciousness rather than the aesthetics of what you’re placing. I’ve found that to be really inspiring and helpful when it comes to the act of creating.
Do you have any studio rituals that help facilitate your creative flow?
I love starting with just a simple pencil on a big piece of paper in the morning and giving myself that moment to kind of brain dump right onto the paper. And I’ve found that those ideas, regardless of if they’re good or bad, are more about the connection — a moment to exercise and keep myself engaged with not only the coordination of hand-to-eye drawing, but to the process and experience of creating. Usually my day starts with an exercise and a connection to that blank creative moment.
With the emergence of digital mediums — NFTs, immersive walkthroughs — have you found yourself or your peers utilizing this new technological frontier to expand the scope of what art can be?
It feels like every single person around me is utilizing tech, embracing it much more than ten years ago. I see a lot of exciting augmented reality installations that you can find around the city, to augmented reality packaging that I’ve seen recently. You shine your device at this package and it just kind of comes alive and turns into an actual animation — a lot of animation work and motion work. I think it’s definitely all around me and it’s definitely a very exciting world. I think now that we’ve gotten over that hurdle of comfort, we’re really starting to embrace it. We’re finally seeing truly exciting, legitimate, relevant and valid representations and reflections of life and art.
Your artwork is known for capturing a Californian-infused pop aesthetic. Being based in LA, how has the city informed your work?
Growing up, being born and raised here in LA, I’ve started to understand — upon my various travels in Europe, Asia and South America — Los Angeles definitely does have a certain weather to it, a certain kind of brightness that fuels the culture of the city. You wake up, and it’s 75 degrees out every single day, and it feels like you’re going to the beach. Everyone is less afraid to wear color — to celebrate color — to celebrate graphics and drawings.
Every day is like a day at the beach, where you are less afraid to wear crazy [accessories] and prints. The sun is out — there’s a celebration of color that happens in those types of environments. I naturally bring that back into the studio with sun-bleached colors. You can paint a wall bright red and within two weeks, it’s like a salmon pink, right? You can paint a car an aqua blue, and then in three weeks it’s like a sea foam green. I love those kind of in-between moments and those in-between colors. Those are all things that I’ve been inspired by from the city itself.