Pow Magazine

Order/Disorder: Stephen Calhoun, Psych Artist

July 13, 2020. This week, Heights Arts features the artwork of Cleveland Heights native son, Stephen Calhoun. Photographer, designer, painter, musician, and all-around cool dude, Steve was interviewed by POW in effort to breathe order into his ever-experimental, mind-bending digital photography.

With exhibition dates from July 10 through August 23, Steve’s artwork must be experienced: Found objects, dizzying algorithms, Hubble images, and limitless fractals are displayed in bewitching combinations of hyper-realistic detail and pattern. Appointments are available to view Calhoun’s immersive psychedelia in person.

POW: Steve, you are a visual artist; however, your method has been described as a “musical process”. What do you mean by that? How is the creation of your visual art a musical process?

Calhoun: Human Creativity organizes materials. It is no surprise the higher orders of doing so within the practices of every form of creativity, form of art, are spoken of as having something to do with the vibrations of materials. From this it is possible to speak of differences in vibration, yet, as well, it is also possible to speak of their similarities or equivalences. The result of reflecting on my approach to organizing to some degree—sometimes lesser, other times greater—the vibrations necessary to any visual field resulted in the development of a scheme. It is purposefully alliterative. These steps define how my conducting and improvising unfold. Each element identifies an act of differentiation. These steps are found in different configurations in every art form.

Found objects, dizzying algorithms, Hubble images, and limitless fractals are displayed in bewitching combinations of hyper-realistic detail and pattern. 

POW: There is a strong, intentional reliance on chaotic natural forms and discarded broken objects in your art. In a way you seem to reveal an order and beauty in an otherwise chaotic visual space. How does your process reconcile these opposites?

Calhoun: I think of it all as being ‘functionally paradoxical.’ One way to think about this is to work through how it works in reverse order. The finished image is orderly. It is orderly at the location of its symmetries, and it remains orderly as the eye tracks visual content farther away from a symmetry. The symmetry is very hard to disrupt. It only fails were we take away the symmetry itself. Because the symmetry itself is procedurally straightforward, it is easy to demonstrate that innumerable symmetries are hidden in the seemingly chaotic assembly just as innumerable random (or stochastic,) complexities are hidden in the symmetries. This is like the two sides of a single coin.

POW: I know you intend your art to be for everyone. You have a keen interest in children’s response to your art. Tell me about that. Is there something hidden in art that is only accessible by children?

There may be something hidden in children which is only accessible through the experience of art.

If someone of any age were to ask me, “Do you have any tips about looking at your art?” I would tell them this, “Go find nameable things; when you find these nameable things, do you also discover relations between them? In this picture are faces, doorways, rooms, and all sorts of other stuff. Collect in your mind what you have uncovered and see if there are any stories you can imagine happening due to what you have revealed.”

My experience is that kids under the age of sixteen or so, understand these tips and so he or she quickly will begin to point out stuff. Adults can do this too, but they are also sometimes more likely to qualify these tips by wondering if there are specifics I am leaving out, or that the goal of their exploration is known by me, or, that implicit in the tip is a future correct answer. Some adults will find the tips challenging, kids never do!

We know how adults can make a simple prospect into something twisted by ego, expectation, and something like test anxiety. Other times the adult beholder can easily access their child-like imagination and creativity and leap into the process of discovery without any additional hand holding. Kids? They are developmentally closer to their unfettered imagination, so, they naturally leap into the picture.

Dig on the artwork of Stephen Calhoun at Heights Arts, Spotlight Gallery on 2175 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Exhibition runs July 10 through August 23 by appointment only. Stringent Covid-19 safety protocols in effect. Additional information is available at HeightsArts.org and artiststephencalhoun.com.