Feature by Julie Kucks | Photos by Will Marks
Normally when you are notified of a local art show, the show takes place in a gallery or small museum. But imagine getting an invitation to the show “Sprung From the Tongue” by Stephen Michael Haas, and as you arrive, you approach an old row home in Harrisburg. You would probably do a double take, peering down at the address you’d written and back at the row home. But Stephen (whose biggest hero and inspiration is the set designer of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Wayne White) catered this exclusive, unique art show with breakfast cereal and beer rather than hoity toity wine and cheese. When this color-packed, signified the end of an era for Stephen as well. And this transformation is still taking place today.
When Stephen told me at the end of our conversation that he was just 24 years of age, I felt faint. We spent almost an hour discussing his growth as an artist, as a human, as a young adult, and I was stunned by his rich and prolific wisdom. Many times during our interview, his thought process was so complex that he seemed to have a difficult time articulating his deepest feelings and theories about life and being an artist.
Currently residing in Harrisburg where he is from, Stephen recently quit his day job to do art full time. His previous art era focused mainly on where he came from.
“I feel like it all started as a kid at my Grandma’s when I was four years old, like many artists,” Stephen explains. “My parents were really supportive of it all and I wasn’t high maintenance. I just needed a Mead notebook and a pencil,” he laughs. As long as he had his pen and pencil, he would draw all day long, occasionally playing video games or with his action figures. These worlds all came together for Stephen and became fluid within the art he creates. His work drowns you in wild colors, an atmospheric wonderland of unfamiliar disorientation.
However, you will understand his expressions of rebellion and finding purpose within this bewilderment. Hieroglyphics, bold lines and colors, fluidity in motion, and creating a fantastical environment are very apparent in his work. It makes sense that his biggest influence is Wayne White (who, as mentioned before, worked on the set design of Pee Wee’s Playhouse), and Stephen had the chance to work with his hero in the not-so-distant past.
“He actually told me that my work inspired him and made him want to make art. Do you understand how huge that is for your hero to tell you that your work is really good?” He asks. Furthermore, Wayne told Stephen that a particular piece Stephen created made him want to “fire up the glue gun.”
“I see art as a method of transcendence in life. It’s all very fluid,” Stephen tells me. “I draw and paint, but I also hike and cook. My experience of the world is very indicative of the art I make.” Through Stephen’s lens, he is always drawing in ways which assist him in surpassing his own personal obstacles and struggles, but he also relates to the viewer in that what he experiences, in some way, everyone else has experienced, too. Stephen has felt tremendous pressure since leaving nationally-renowned MICA due to insufficient funds to continue his schooling. Ultimately, the way in which he expresses these struggles to the world around him is through his art, but this really promotes itself in every activity Stephen participates in.
After completing “Sprung From the Tongue” in the row home, Stephen receded a bit to make art part of his everyday experiences rather than working towards grandiose showings for the public eye. In the near future, Stephen will have another opportunity to work with his hero, Wayne, on a month-long project in Tennessee.
Stephen’s wisdom travels throughout our entire conversation and into the last thing he says to me before getting off the phone. “Just as Fine Living Lancaster is saying goodbye to a decade of experiences and looking forward to the future, I am also ready to evolve in a new way, too. I am not so much living for art, but living to see life as art.”
Here’s to you, Stephen, and your next evolutionary era.