RIOT ART GALLERY: A curated selection of art for the next generation collector

An alternate mini-universe: Eli Stevick's Art and Absurdist Mythology

InterviewsErika Belavy

Tired of planet earth? Venture over to Neptune with Eli Stevick, our featured artist this week. He's fresh out of art school yet his art indicates a maturity beyond his years. His desire to create alternate worlds led him to developing personal absurdist narratives, which serve as the basis for his work. Eli starts his art-making process with writing. He continuously adds new complexities to his current short fiction Roys, Beans, and Outer Space. This story involves American astronauts being shot off in rockets to Neptune during a nuclear escape from planet earth. As a whole, the work represents a struggle for balancing morality, empathy, temptation and control... we can't take our eyes off! 

What made you decide to become an artist?

My great grandfather was an artist. I think he instilled something in me at a young age. He was always making things. Once he made a set of lizard lassos for my cousins and I. They worked really well. I remember him teaching me to draw in perspective, which was the start of my avid interest in doodling. I occupied myself throughout public education drawing aliens, playing music, building skateboard ramps and tree forts. For my first semester at university I studied general business. I didn’t feel like that path had much to offer in terms of learning the think in a way that was exciting to me and I quickly made the switch to studying Fine Arts.

You say your work is based on absurdist mythology that you've created. Tell us more about this! Where did this originate? What inspired it?

I was reaching a point that I felt I needed to create more consistent works. I had been reading a lot of authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins at the time. Something about their grasp of science fiction appealed to me. It is strange and abstract, but somehow not fantasy. Another artist I was inspired by at the time was Trenton Doyle Handcock. He was the first painter I saw develop one consistent narrative through a massive body of work. The more I got to know the characters he worked with, the more I enjoyed his work. I wanted to create a system that worked in this way.

My artist statement for the mythology work was just a short fiction story about astronauts leaving earth in order to preserve the human race. It involves a conspiracy led by Senator McCarthy, a notoriously disliked “pinko hunter.”  He wrongfully brought many people to trial in fear of communism. In the fictional mythology, these disappearing people were actually being recruited into teams of intergalactic pilgrims. I liked the humor of his character actually having some good intentions. I feel he probably did, even though I don’t agree with his actions.  

The mythology works depict these astronauts on Neptune encountering a race of small pink aliens called Roys. The astronauts, who are only equipped to farm beans, grow tired of being vegetarian and start to enslave and consume the tender Roys. Some anthropologists team up with the Roys and paint themselves pink. I did a performance with a friend of mine in which we were nude, painted pink, and performing gibberish conversation in a room labeled degenerate zoo. I was interested in addressing how people justify their cruelty towards others. In reality, there is no definite line that can be drawn to explain how people should treat each other and other creatures.  The mythology was important to keep the work humorous and accessible.

What do you want to accomplish with your work?

Recently I have been working outside of the mythology again. It was a successful body of work, but I found it limiting in some ways. Most importantly I want to keep producing work. I find the more I make, the more I learn and the more interesting my work becomes. Whether it be painting, performing, sculpture, etc. I think it’s important to keep in mind that my works can have their own individual agendas. I want each individual work to bring some topic into conversation to be explored. That that is most important to me. It isn’t always necessary to have a large series of paintings about the same topic to start these conversations. Most recently I’ve been interested in observing puzzling social behavior and simple pleasures. However, I’m constantly finding myself inspired by people in new ways. I make my work to record these observations in the most honest way I can.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The powers of Cupid came to mind first, though I’d try to be helpful rather than be a trickster. However, I think the power to mediate may be even more useful. Imagine magically bringing countries at war to compromise, and quarrelling lovers to cuddling. There’d be a lot of work to do. The super mediator may need the power to fly as well.

Shop Eli's work here.


Eli grew up in the United States in Cement City, Michigan. He later moved to Ypsilanti where he completed his BFA in Printmaking and Sculpture at Eastern Michigan University. Eli creates images because of his desire to create worlds.  His work is based on personal absurdist narratives - he starts his art-making process with writing. The relationships created by this narrative are an exaggerated model for the conflicts that exist within his own personality. These narratives eventually led to a performance project that Eli calls "The Church of COTU and the Super Genius." where he preaches on a soapbox in a broad striped suit while passing out “free knowledge” in the form of a pamphlet. The content uses metaphors based on linguistics, physics, and determinism. He continues exploring narratives such as this in film and guerrilla theatre while his 2D and 3D works have become less specific. Eli aims to maintain a small degree of ambiguity to allow his work to have potential for multiple interpretations.