Words: Eleanor Kirby
Chicago based artist and PUSS PUSS contributor Stephen Eichhorn has been making cat & plant collages since 2008 so it was only a question of time until they had to manifest in the shape of a book, ‘I’m a tactile person, that’s how I work and it’s how I prefer to take in visual information – through books or artwork in real life. I like having a physical compilation of the work that’s mainly existed online.’ As the 152-page Cats & Plants book is released by LA art publisher Zioxla, we caught up with the feline loving artist to find out more about his obsession with vintage reference books and why cats and cactuses are the perfect combo.
Diving in straight away, what was the catalyst that made you start thinking about Cats and Plants?
I had a collection of 80’s and early 90’s cat books in the studio. After flipping through a couple of them on break from collaging the more formal work, I made a couple of the cat faced plants. Going into more depth with the books over the years, I’ve noticed that the cats are photographed in a similar way to plants in houseplant guides – informal and formal still life situations. There’s a quirkiness and humour to the compositions of the houseplants that the cat photos shared – like the cats and plants were domestic objects.
How do you begin working? Do you have any methods to help you ease into the creative process?
I straighten up the studio or water plants at the beginning of the day, it gets me grounded in the space and focused on what needs attention for the day. There is a backlog of collected imagery in the studio, so I like to start most working days with cutting down source into individual components. That process definitely lends itself to easing into making, just jumping into a piece doesn’t work for me.
You have two toy poodles and a cat, why have cats taken pride of place in your new publication?
Lulu, Francis and Kevin the cat. I have made only one poodle collage and done one other dog collage in all this time, so the bulk of the work remains cat driven.
How do you source the imagery that appears in your work?
Most of my imagery comes from reference books (both vintage and some contemporary). I stay away from using art photo books and have a rule against using National Geographic, Life or any magazine source in my collage process. Those materials are ubiquitous in collage making and just too easy in their image accessibility.
The inclusion of cats makes your work feel quite humorous at times, why do you think the persona of the cat is so easily manipulated, and successful in terms of claiming a reaction from people?
They are full of dualities: cats have hilarious personalities that seem wise and dopey. They can have all-knowing and at the same time blank faces. These make it easy to project your own feelings and persona onto them.
How do your pets influence your work, or indeed your life?
I won’t say the cats & plants work has much, if anything, to do with the poodles or Kevin. That being said, most of my life and day-to-day revolve around them. There are little to no boundaries in the house when it comes to their existence with my partner, Jessica and I. Despite my best efforts everyone sleeps in the same bed and sometimes under the covers at night.
Do you feel your style of work has or will change with the speed at which people consume imagery via Instagram? Do you find the platform has helped support your style of work?
Instagram (as well as most social media) has been an accelerator when it comes to outputting work and consuming imagery. Because there is a never ending flow of visual information, it has been a nice lesson in the importance of not constantly making and not sharing everything from the studio and from life in general. On the flip side, I do like the ease in which I can share what’s happening in my art practice and what I’m excited about in my life via that platform.
You can order your copy of Cats & Plants through our online shop or from the publisher here. For each book sold, a can of cat food will be donated to a non-profit organisation that saves cats from shelters and places them in loving homes.
A part of the cats & shells series also appears in issue 3 of PUSS PUSS.