Jacob Eveland’s art paints a beautiful picture of an alternate reality filled with enchanted animals and unique heirlooms–and sometimes, that picture is several stories tall. Eveland, who graduated from VCU last May with a degree in Communication Arts, recently joined many other local and non-local artists who’ve brought their work to Richmond’s streets, creating a monochromatic mural on the side of Highpoint Gallery, located at 3300 W. Broad St in Scott’s Addition.
Jacob Eveland’s art paints a beautiful picture of an alternate reality filled with enchanted animals and unique heirlooms–and sometimes, that picture is several stories tall. Eveland, who graduated from VCU last May with a degree in Communication Arts, recently joined many other local and non-local artists who’ve brought their work to Richmond’s streets, creating a monochromatic mural on the side of Highpoint Gallery, located at 3300 W. Broad St in Scott’s Addition. This is just the tip of the iceberg where Eveland’s art is concerned, though; his smaller prints of animal heads in various situations have appeared in recent solo shows at New Normal Apparel and The Camel, among others. During the latter exhibition, Eveland sold through all of the pieces he had on display, so his work is definitely drawing some attention in the local art world. He also enjoys working with other artists in a collaborative artistic space–he’s currently based in a group studio called Bonfire RVA, which is located at 316 Brook Rd and holds open studio nights on most First Fridays. We caught up with Jacob recently at Highpoint Gallery to find out where he’s coming from. He had a lot to tell us.
You excited to be in Richmond?
Oh, I love Richmond, man. I moved here from East St. Louis. I like the place I came from but I had to grow from it. I always came to visit here over the summers and winters to visit family. I was like, “I hope they have a good arts school. Oh, VCU? Never heard of them. I guess it’s because they don’t have a football team.” But once I found out I was like, “Dude, this is sweet. This is the perfect spot for me.” It’s not too big of a city. I know it used to be dangerous, but it’s a lot safer than East St. Louis.
Yeah, so I hear. What was your childhood like there? Were you kept separate from the harsher aspects of the area growing up, or was it something you were aware of and had to deal with directly?
I grew up in Lebanon, IL, which is a small town surrounded by cornfields, about 20 minutes outside of East St. Louis. I tell people I’m from that area because when I mention I’m from Illinois everyone thinks I’m from Chicago. I spent a decent amount of time at music venues in [East St. Louis] while in high school, and ran against the high schools in track and cross-country. I was aware of my surroundings–just stayed on the main roads and played it smart. It was wild seeing cops with high powered rifles in bulletproof vests at some of the track meets, because of the fact that a gang fight had broken out at the last meet. Some schools are even surrounded by fences with barbed wire at the top, but luckily that wasn’t my day to day.
When did you first decide you wanted to be an artist? What inspired you in your early days?
For as long as I can remember I have been making things. I would draw random things and make small comics when I was young, but Legos were my life. It was my escape from my parents’ divorce when I was five, and after that it became a regular practice of therapy to draw and make things. When I reached my freshman year of high school I did a piece of a 1969 Dodge Super Bee. I was able to replicate it better than I ever thought I would be able to. It dawned on me that I can do this for the rest of my life. After that I wanted to create my own world pulled from my past, and make something new to escape [my] problems–not knowing my dad, him being in prison half of my life. Ever since then, I have been making my own work, and living off of it for the most part.
You had mentioned that in school you did a lot of work with school publications, and you were doing art at the same time.
I just did like some interviews [for] magazines like Ink Magazine. I also showed at Ghostprint for the Richmond Illustrators Show in 2012. And I was part of Society of Illustrators–VCU actually flew me up there and put me in a hotel. They only accept 200 of the top college illustrators, so it’s a nice pat on the back.
How would you explain your work?
It’s black and white for the most part. I’m experimenting with different mediums, colors…. I’m always learning and growing. Overall, [it’s] character designs and concepts for a graphic novel I’m working on. I’m letting it grow over time. I have been building this story for years to truly understand what I want to say. It’s all based on my past–because you can only build from what you know and what you’ve experienced. There are all these different animals and symbols, based on people and things that happened in my past. I first started creating characters not knowing who they were, but now each one has a background in representing someone or a experience in my past life.
The story is about not falling into what people expect you to become, looking at both perspectives of a situation, and seeing if you can accept that. It is based on my past with my father, and how he was never there due to the fact he was in prison or out of state smuggling illegal items. I had a realization that I needed to know who he was and accept him back into my life. Once I got his side of the story, he wasn’t this crazy evil wild person that everyone said he was. He was just my dad, who was put in a rough situation. The graphic novel will have an ornamental, classical novelty due to the fact I am inspired by antiques and I almost spent every day till I was 12 years old in my grandparents antique shop. I have a strong love for animals. My sister worked at St. Louis zoo, and she’s a bio major who always had like ten animals in the house. So, there’s a lot of love for making all of that stuff work together.
I’ve seen the animal head illustrations you’ve been doing recently on facebook. What is the medium in which you’ve been doing these? How do you display these works when you exhibit them?
The Fox panels on wood are from my solo show Chasing Chaos, [which] I had at New Normal Apparel. I created them when I was a TA for my good friend Matt Lively’s AFO Surface class. He has a project called “The 64 Project.” In this project you start with one image, then take it apart and put it together again in 64 variations, to where it doesn’t look like the original. Then you take a stencil of the original on the under layer, and experiment with different materials. Every single piece has different mediums mixed together, using traditional mediums like acrylic paint [and] non-traditional items like ground cinnamon. This project is by far the biggest eye-opening experience I have had with seeing how different mediums react with one another. I believe every artist should do this project. I have Matt to thank for showing [it to] me.
I have made some modifications to the project–I cut out pieces of plywood that I stained, and used an adhesive to attached the original fox pieces. I took a router to the back of the piece of wood, so you can hang it on the wall. I have done close to 90 of them. All of the variations of the Fox represent a part of a story from the Chasing Chaos show, where a barter went wrong and a fox ate some butterflies that wouldn’t give him a net. The butterflies have a dusting on their wings, which will put you into a loopy comatose state. Each panel illustrates the fox in a different second of him tripping out. At the show I installed them on a wall together and each panel could be purchased separately.
Tell us about the mural you did for Highpoint Gallery. What does it depict, and what inspired the image?
The mural on Highpoint Gallery is a recreation of a piece I did for my solo show, Unraveling Vengeance, at The Camel. The story of that show was a continuation of Chasing Chaos. The butterflies in the world produce silk from the ends of their wings. At the end of this silk they have small needles so they can crochet you things. You can trade them items so they can make you nets, clothing and more, but in Chasing Chaos, the butterflies started collecting what was owed to them. They got a little overboard, so the animals in this world had to fight back. This is where the woodpeckers come in. They flew out to an area and collected these black rocks that, when broken from the mountain, float and create a dark glow. The butterflies are strongly attracted to these rocks. As the story continues, the woodpeckers went out and collected some of the rocks to fix the bartering system with the butterflies. For Highpoint Gallery mural, you see the woodpeckers dive-bombing through trees. This is the scene of them delivering the rocks to the butterflies. The murals and solo shows I create are a side story to give you an idea of the characters in this world of the graphic novel I’m working on.
What draws you to painting murals as a form of artistic expression? Do you like murals better than smaller illustrations, or do you see them more as two separate, unrelated mediums?
I find murals to be fun. I get to be outside and not hunched over at my desk. With a mural you get to share a piece of yourself and what you represent. If I had a choice I would paint a mural over sitting at my desk. Each and every wall is a different experience, both prepping it and the application [of the paint].
What else are you inspired by? Or art in general that you’re looking at? Either genre or artist.
There are a lot of artists that I really pull from. A lot of my friends inspire me. When I first moved here, I met Jesse Smith, and we draw every Tuesday. That was like six years ago. I really liked how he was pulling things and foreshortening them, and I was trying to learn how I can get that effect. That really inspired me.
Who are your collaborators in the Bonfire RVA space? What’s the space’s overall mission?
I found the space, then called up some friends. It’s a thousand square feet, and there are four artists who share the space. Since beginning in July 2014, Virginia Wood, Kristian Barber, Amelia Langford, and I have inhabited the space. The space has a wood shop. We would like to eventually have open art nights, where anyone can come by, watch demos, have model drawing sessions, and draw with us while we project a movie. We have an open studio during First Fridays, except for December and January.
So you have a workshop in the back?
Yeah, we’ve got a saw and everything, so we can make panels. I’m gonna make some lamps soon, wrap them with cork and do a design on them. I’m just a maker. I like making a ton of different stuff. I used to work at an auto body shop with my dad, and the work doesn’t stop. But yeah, I wanna teach some classes [at the studio space] one on one. Because everybody in the space is VCU—there’s one VCU grad student, Virginia Wood, and then everyone else is VCU alumni.
Are you excited about anything for the rest of the year? Are there projects you’re working on that you’re stoked on?
Well, I’m leaving soon to go out to St. Louis. I have a potential mural out there. But I’m going back for the first time in probably six years. I’m gonna sell some of my work downtown and see the first mural I did out there. That’s where I grew up so that what fostered everything. I gave a lecture in Varina and that was fun. The kids were really cool and I did a little art demo. But what’s coming up? I have a lot of projects I can’t talk about. I’m just prepping. Hopefully more murals in the future, because they are so much fun.
Jacob Eveland’s work can be seen in the Functional Art Movement group show, opening February 6, 2015 at 9WG Studios, located at 9 W. Grace St.
This article is taken from the Winter 2014/2015 print edition of RVA Magazine, out now! Look for copies available for free at your favorite local Richmond businesses. To read a digital version of the full issue, click here.