In January 2015 I approached visual artist Steven Cline with a draft of The Ocean Container, a novel(la) in progress, and he responded with a cover image. Here I ask Steven Cline about his work, and about the image he created: 

In many cases your collage works contain unlikely or surprising metaphors. Is this what qualifies them as ‘surreal’?

I want to take the everyday and transform it into something sublime and shocking, revitalizing reality with the imagination. These are my overall goals, and I feel they match the surrealist goals. My work is often also automatic, though I don’t stick to that technique dogmatically.

Do you consider yourself a ‘surrealist’ or simply someone who makes surreal art?

I do consider myself a surrealist. I’ve always been attracted to the strange and marvelous, towards things that transcend the banal capitalist reality we are thrown into. 

Your collages works seems to consist of images from the past (specifically, it seems, the modern age). Does that reflect a concern with the past, or a nostalgic view of surrealism, or a bit of both?

I think its a combination of many things. Of course the copyright problem is less of an issue when using older materials, and they are often superior from an aesthetic standpoint. There is also the joy of terrorizing and subverting the past. Taking the absurd consumerist utopia presented by better homes and gardens and attacking it with a giant flesh ball is deeply satisfying. (To give one example) I think surrealism is one of the best weapons we have. Old images and ephemera also have a very strong feeling of unreality and strangeness for me, which helps in conveying the feeling I am searching for. I am nostalgic about surrealism, but want to be careful not to fall too much into that trap. I think surrealists should try to move the things forward, instead of pining for a lost golden age.

What is the role of surrealism now?

Hard to say. The influence of surrealism can be felt everywhere, but the movement itself has been misunderstood and devalued, especially in the states. I see it as a philosophy and state of mind, but most see it as a short lived art movement. I think surrealists need to reclaim their past, but not mimic it. We need to create new things and move forward. 

I want to know about your process. How intentional or accidental is your work? If you work by accident, do you have a technique for making accidents happen? I’m asking especially in the context of found images. 

I work quickly and without an internal censor. I try to guide myself into that trance-like automatic state as I work. Depending on how the work is going, I may sometimes put on the breaks for a while to process things. I get my materials at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Most of the books there are worthless, but sometimes you hit upon something that really resonates with you and calls out to be manipulated. I create surrealist objects with things I find there as well. I used to do all my work in photoshop & illustrator, but felt stifled by that. Using them is too slow and counterintuitive for me, and there is not much room for chance, which is such an important element in surrealist work.

I’d like to know how you arrived at the cover image for The Ocean Container. I mentioned a whale to you, and there’s a whale in the novel, so perhaps I understand why it’s in your image. But I’m wondering about the rest of the composition. Was it suggested to you through the novel, or did you come to it another way?

When I finished the novel, it left me with a very strong feeling. Something intangible that is hard to describe. I set to work on the collage soon after, keeping that feeling in the forefront of my mind as I searched for images that would reflect it.

Steven Cline online:

The Ocean


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