Jun 4, 2023 | Community

Childhood recovered at will (Part 1)

Author: Pablo Gonzalez

Stephen Ives (part 1) - Brunswick Daily

Stephen (S): I’m a very selfish artist.

Pablo (P): In what way? 

(S): I just do it for me. My stuff is for me. I’m really bad at doing commissions so I’m a bit careful about doing commission work. 

It’s like a spectrum, you’ve got extremely selfish artists who just do me me me on one end, and then on the other, you might have artists who are a bit more flexible. Illustrators or designers who are actually good at commissions, who are good at working to briefs. They enjoy working to a brief. I hate it. I’m entertaining my inner child, that’s all I’m doing.

If I work on a commission, I’m very careful with people and I say, “Explain your idea but if I don’t have the vision in my head, I’m not taking your money”. I’ve done commissions in the past that my heart wasn’t in and I don’t do good work and then someone pays me for doing something that I don’t believe and just don’t like it. There’s no integrity in it. 

It’s just something I’ve just had to deal with. So that’s why I’ve always had jobs and stuff. If I could do really regular commissioners, I’d be able to pull in a regular income but it’s just not like that. I’ve been banging my head against this for decades because I do all right but I don’t live off it.

Having been in this situation where I’ve actually had this injury* things went really dark, I went just down. Now I’m kind of just pulling myself out physically. In April I had Nefelibata, a show of drawings and I had my community around me.

*Stephen recently broke his back cleaning skyscrapers windows in the city. 

(P): When was the last time you had an exhibition before then? 

(S): I had a show last year. I had a sculpture show which went all right, but sculpture is hard to sell, it costs more. You know, everyone’s got a bit of space on a wall where they can put a print or a drawing on.

With sculptures is different. It’s the size of it and also I make stuff that is worth 70 grand so that’s for a very particular buyer. And I do have some buyers who buy sculptures but they are a tiny amount that I’m always trying to expand. 

There’s also the fact that we’re in Australia and it’s a very small art market and very conservative. We’re a long way from everyone else so there are many factors involved.

(P): I have so many questions about what you just said, but I’m gonna I’m going to start with this one. Because we’re at your workshop and it’s full of toys. What was your relationship with toys when you were a kid? 

(S): When kid, I had just a mix of things. I Iove Lego and I’m a Lego brain. This is why I like this chaos. This is Lego, okay? It’s just massive potential.

Stephen - Brunswick Daily

(P): Did you play with toys? 

(S): Yeah, yeah! I had action man, I had dolls. I had dress-ups male and female, jigsaw puzzles. It was the 1970s there was some pretty cool toys around then. I used to sword fight with sticks, I made tree houses, or used to ride Billy Carts down the road. 

(P): What toy did you spoil the most?

(S): Lego. I mean, I still got it. It’s a f*****g huge box of Lego down there [points at a box under him]. I used to just sit in that for days because you could make anything. I saw a toy my mum wouldn’t buy and be like “I’m going to make it out of Lego!” Which is kind of what I’m doing now, you know? 

(P): When I came to your exhibition and I saw your workshop, I was instantly curious about it. You might not even remember, but you told me, “Go in if you want!”. So I came in, and I was what the hell? It was like getting into your brain. It seems to be an extension of you.

(S): Exactly! This is how I arrange my brain and I’m sitting in the middle. 

Stefano - Brunswick Daily

(P): When I came in that day, I got a vibe from this Toy Story character, Sid.

(S): Oh, everyone relates me to that kid! The one who destroyed the toys! 

(P): The thing is that you walk in and you see a limbless Woody with an eye that doesn’t belong to him, right next to a doll’s hairless head! 

(S): Haha well, I needed his boots and hands!

Woody - Brunswick Daily

(P): When did you start combining heads with bodies?

(S): The weird thing is I always used to draw. I did a bit of graphic design in my 20s because I didn’t get into art college and I hated it because you’re working to briefs all the time so I dropped out of that but I failed to get into all the art colleges in Melbourne.

I then became a chef and when I was 27 I had my first exhibition and I went “Oh! This is something I want to do!” and I had another exhibition. Now I was like “I’m going to apply to the art colleges again!” and I completely failed to get for the second time.

When I was, I think it was 31 or 30, I can’t remember, I’d broken my heart over a girl. And I thought, “I need to f*****g do something!”, and I came to my studio, and I made this little sculpture.

Sculpture - Brunswick Daily

(S): At that stage, I felt it was really f*****g good!  I felt really good! Why am I not doing more of this? And I realised, it’s like this is something I should pursue. And so I started playing with sculpture. It was just so easy and pure. And I realised my sculpture had never been through school. I didn’t do sculpture at school so it was a  direct line back to being a child sitting on that pile of Lego. When I was a teenager, I made model and I was really bad at this. It was fast and just glue everywhere, it was terrible. But then I used to f**k around with them but it was always about play. 

(P): Connect me back to the self-indulgence part of your work because when you were a kid were you only satisfying your own cravings? 

(S): Yeah, totally! It’s just me playing!

(P): And then when you had your first exhibition, did that change as in this is for the audience?

(S): No, it’s just me doing my stuff. But it has this double thing. When I do it, it’s for me. It’s very much about me indulging myself and just what’s coming out, how I react, what I think, whimsical ideas, fun things, and there’s a lot of depth in my work as well if you go into some of the darkest stuff. 

But when I have a show, it’s all about everyone else enjoying the work, seeing what they get out of the work. So I like shows because I get to sit back and just see the reaction, see the interpretation. I often naively think people will understand what the show is about and they never do, it’s rare! There’s a few people who know my work and they know me and they can get it. They’ll see what I see.

But for most people, they have their own filters, which is just logical. And it’s interesting because you see stuff you hadn’t realised. Things will resonate with people in a different way! And that’s what’s really enjoyable. That’s when it becomes selfless.

And it looks like that in the middle, everyone’s going, oh my god! It [the work] goes out into the world and they get enjoyment and they put it on their wall and that’s what reverses the selfish side of it.

(P): I’m gonna tell you the words that came to my head after I came to your exhibition Nefilabata. Nostalgia, What if?, Destruction, Kindness, Playful, and Erotica. When you say that people don’t get it, do you mean the set of words that I just gave you or the story behind your exhibition?

(S): There was a whole narrative that run through that show. There is a story. If I’m drawing stuff that’s all about my internal dialogue it’s all fantasy. It’s a quite realistic drawing and it’s a fantasy, you know?

If I’m doing external things sitting in a cafe drawing that’s abstract. I’m interested in trying to weave the two together a bit. That’s something I’m going to start playing with a bit but this show was just all about all my comic book influences like Asterix and Obelix or Tintin.

(P): From my perspective, your drawings in Nefilabata always had a punchline. 

(S): Explain that.

…. and so I did. Stay tuned for this explanation, Stephen’s definition of creativity, the artists that inspired him, and what’s coming next with his work.


Stay across comments
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments