Meet Ebon Heath. He's a Berlin-based artist with roots in Brooklyn and Bali who has a quite well diversified portfolio. His experience ranges from designing for Triple 5 Soul and Bad Boy Entertainment in the 1990s (Biggie's "Life After Death" LP design? Yeah, that was Heath) to jewelry design, sculpture and now Complex covers.
The text-based pieces you see wrapping Beyoncé on the new cover and the inside spread are actually physical sculptures that Heath created—not 3D text renderings or fancy Photoshop designs. The pieces were hung, B did her thing, and legendary fashion photographer Thierry Le Goues went to work.
We caught up with Ebon Heath recently to discuss the past, present and future of his work, and to hear about his Complex cover-making experience. Check the interivew...
Complex: What brought you to where you are today as an artist?
Ebon Heath: In a past life, I founded a studio called ((( stereotype ))) that did a lot of design work within New York Hip Hop culture—specifically, music packaging, magazines, and fashion—in the 1990s. After that I moved on to found Cell Out, which was using design to save the world by creating media for ngo's, non profits, and social minded brands. I also taught design at Lehman College in the Bronx. Now i find myself in Berlin making my art, trying to stay free and make bigger dreams come true daily.
What other things have informed your current work?
When I was young I saw Caulder's Circus and that always stuck in my mind—the idea of making objects come alive. Growing up with parents who loved Jazz really taught me how to listen, and then later the poetry of Hip Hop made me see the words dance. I also have been inspired by the rich Carnival culture of Trinidad, and by one of my mentors [Carnival artist] Peter Minshall. Remix it all visually together and it sounds like me.
At first glance, it isn't easy to see that the words are actually a physical object. Why make type into a physical thing at a time when almost everything else is going digital?
The main goal of my work with type is to liberate our words from the page or screen so they can come alive and express the content they uniquely hold. I have always been inspired by the organic nature of Graffitti and its ability to give type a unique form dependent on its surrounding letters, expressive intent, and usually the amount of time writers have to create.
As much as I love digital, I don't think it can replace our hands, real light and shadow, our ability to walk around something and see it from a different angle. No matter how good the illusion or the synthetic version is, you cant beat the real thing. We have lost our sense of craft and the process of making things. Today, we can do it all by clicking a button instead of getting our hands dirty, practicing, and focusing all our energy on the details—like cutting out thousands of letters).
Working so much in the digital world made me miss the joyful mistakes and experiments that happen when you can touch something, or see something without it being plugged in. I was part of the last generation who were taught the analog while the digital grew up from floppy discs to terabytes. Technology is integrated in my working process, especially working with lasers now, yet my output is analog.