ART-SEE: Eli Craven, Collage Whiz

Welcome to the newest installment on Twenties Collective. Art-See will be a weekly space devoted to featuring quirky artists whose work may be lesser-known to those with only a surface interest in the art sphere. Coupled with this, of course, will be a few questions about the artist’s process and their advice for aspiring young creatives. You may not be an art fiend, but inspiration is pretty transcendental, is it not?


First up is Eli Craven, a visionary collage artist whose pieces are both thought-provoking and aesthetically intriguing. They successfully toe a line between poignant and playful–no easy task, to be sure. Craven’s work has been displayed in exhibitions the world over, making waves everywhere from Seattle to Rome. Though I was drawn to the collages immediately, without any information on the artist himself ( and quickly concluded that I wouldn’t mind a few hanging on my little apartment wall), I was curious to know who was behind these distinctly modern pieces. Click the images below to enlarge.

How old are you? 34

What led you to photography and collage? I took an interest in photography after high school.  I set up a small darkroom in my sister’s basement and taught myself how to develop film and prints. I enjoyed taking pictures, but I think I was always more interested in other people’s pictures. It was this curiosity in found photos–their history and purpose–that led to my current use of photography and collage.

What is it about these mediums that you enjoy most? I like that there is history in the photograph and it can be manipulated. Photographs serve many purposes and over time they mold and change.  I like finding images and picking apart the material of the past.

What motivates you? My wife and closest friends are all practicing artists, architects, designers, etc., and we motivate each other. Our personal and professional lives tend to blend together through our collaborations and dialog. In short, there is a lot of motivation and excitement about what we do when it is so engrained in the everyday. I think it is important for an artist to surround themselves with others who are making and talking about art.

Where do you get the most inspiration? How do you snap out of a creative rut? In general, what drives my work comes from the everyday; reading, watching films and looking through magazines and newspapers. I also find it necessary to follow what is happening in the art world by going to museums and gallery shows when I can, or following what is happening through the internet.

In my practice, ideas generate from looking through books and magazines I find at estate sales, yard sales and thrift stores. I use the pictures, sometimes physically through collage, and other times I am moved by words or pictures to create something different or more contemporary using the image as a source. If I am in a creative rut I usually flip through some of my books or go looking for more and something will eventually stand out.

Your work often features manipulations of intimate, sometimes romantic images. What interests you about this subject matter? Some of my work explores the molding of gender roles through media, and sexual or romantic imagery is abundant when mining for sources. I am interested in the ways sex and romance as portrayed by the media are shaping our thoughts and attitudes towards gender and sexuality–both how it is presented and what is hidden or forbidden.

Is creating art an escape for you, or something else entirely? As I mentioned before it is engrained into the everyday. I enjoy working in the studio and always look forward to it. Anything outside of that would be an “escape” I suppose, but it is unwelcome. I would rather be working.

What is the biggest challenge you face in creating your art? I think challenging myself may be one of the biggest challenges in creating art. When a project comes easily, I tend to reevaluate the work to make sure I am taking it far enough.

Of your work so far, do you have a favorite series or piece? Why? Usually my most recent series is my favorite because it’s what I am currently excited about.  However, the series Woman Alive opened up a lot of ideas and is still on my mind. My current direction is very much a combination of what I discovered in Woman Alive and the folded collage work. My next project might be my favorite though–I don’t know yet.

What advice would you give to young artists struggling to make a name for themselves? If there is an exhibition, concert, speaker, performance, etc. in your area, you should attend.  It is important to participate and see what is out there, who is out there.  That is the only way to make connections, find your place and get your name out.  Get your work on the internet, it is the cheapest and easiest way to show your work.

What’s up next for you? I spend as much time in the studio as possible, and am also working on my MFA at the University of Illinois. I have started some new projects and have a few exhibitions in the works. You can check for updates on projects and exhibitions on my website,

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