Jeremy Ehling is an Oakland-based artist whose mix of street, found, and fine art is often inspired by science fiction stories and books. I am a Los Angeles-based poet who is often inspired by murals and graffiti splashed around the city. This is our exchange discussing ideas of image and language, nature and culture, public art and fine art, and the threads that connect us all.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Your work is very influenced by science fiction. I’ve heard that readers are drawn to science fiction because of its human frailty. How does it comment on real life for you? What connects you to the genre?
Jeremy Ehling: My favorite science fiction has principles that can transcend species, race, class, or gender. To me, the best authors use distant planets and alien species to comment on human injustice, morality, and environmental topics. One of my favorite writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, often evokes Taoist and feminist philosophies into her tales of other worlds. This connects me to the work.
XB: You state on your website, “As a starting point, I read science fiction stories and imagine what these otherworldly places might look like.” This is exciting to me because I like to write poems inspired by murals around L.A. I enjoy leaping off the giant images and diving into the world that presents itself on the page and swimming around. What is it about a written story that you enjoy using as a springboard for your art?
JE: I love to read! And I love literature that can transport [a person] into another world. I aspire to teleport the viewer into another world with my work, much like many of my favorite science fiction pieces have done for me.
XB: You also say that you are currently compelled to paint these science fiction landscapes on creek tunnels and retaining walls as, “something like science fiction meets truth.” What do you mean?
JE: Painting walls in a natural setting, surrounded by trees [and] plants, often standing in a running stream, to the orchestral-like score of frogs singing, feels like I am surrounded by truth and purity.
XB: This article from the L.A. art journal, East of Borneo, connects the history and life of street art in Los Angeles to that of murals painted in the city by famous artists such as Siqueiros in the early half of the 20th century and Twitchell in the late 20th century. You are a muralist, and you grew up in the urban Bay Area at a time when you were able to witness the rise in popularity of street art. Do you see a connection between murals and street art? Has graffiti had an influence on your work?
JE: I became interested in art through vandalism. In 1993, I discovered graffiti as a form of expression and rebellion. It overwhelmed me with a sense of exhilaration and spontaneity. I still paint graffiti and utilize many of the same techniques, materials, philosophies, and feelings in my non-graffiti based works. In my opinion, graffiti and street art brought forth a DIY(do it yourself) sensibility to mural making, making work without permission, which is a philosophy I still firmly stand behind and practice.
XB: Why murals?
JE: I like how accessible and vulnerable murals can be. They exist unguarded and out of doors. They are approachable. They are viewable by people who would never set foot in a gallery or museum.
XB: You seem to focus more on nature than culture and politics, which—historically speaking—murals often do. Would you say that is true? What ideas about the current state of the world are influencing your work?
JE: My work speaks to the current state of relations between the natural culture and human culture and how they affect each other. In 2007, I read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, a non-fiction account of how the world would respond if human civilization disappeared tomorrow leaving behind our waste. I began making paintings based on this idea. I envisioned animals making forts and dwellings out of our rubbish.
I am [also] inspired by the folk art and outsider art tradition of murals, which often depict personal narrative with a decidedly understated political subtleness to them.
XB: You are from the Bay Area and so you may not know the history of the Los Angeles River, but according to this article from KCET Departures: “After a devastating flood in 1938, Angelenos began to demand flood control measures, leading to the creation of an ambitious project to…encase the riverbed in concrete to prevent it from changing course…turning the river into a man-made storm drain.” Now-a-days, there are efforts to return parts of the river to its natural beauty, but it has also become a canvas for public art. Have you considered bringing your mural work to Southern California and the L.A. River?
JE: Oh, yes! I have not yet made its acquaintance, [but I] have felt intrigued by and drawn to the LA river. I get the feeling that a fresh coat of found paint depicting a fantastical alien scape is imminent!
For more information visit jeremyehling.com.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is Executive Editor of The Splinter Generation. Her poetry is published in The Los Angeles Review, PALABRA, and Writer’s at Work where her poem, Ghazal of the Traffic, is the May 2011 Poem of the Month.
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