The Art of Christopher Ilth
by Oliver Sheppard
Christopher “Ilth” Erickson has sung for Chicago punk bands like the Functional Blackouts and Daily Void; the latter was a band that was often compared to Rudimentary Peni. Nowadays he plays bass in the dark punk band Cemetery. What fans of these bands may not know is that Ilth is a prolific artist who works with a variety of media: collage, sculpture, and various assemblages that all somehow recall the weird fiction of HP Lovecraft, the alternate and surrealistic universes of Max Ernst, and vintage sci-fi/horror. Ilth has had six exhibitions of his work in the past year alone. His visual work is a fine complement to the strange and dark music he’s been involved with, but it’s also sufficiently remarkable to be taken on its own and completely separate merits.
Below is an interview I conducted with Ilth recently, as well as a visual essay of his amazing artwork.
Oliver: Before getting into your art, can you give readers a brief breakdown of your musical career so far? You’re currently in the band Cemetery and have also been in Daily Void and Functional Blackouts in Chicago — any other bands? What years were you in these bands and how would you describe their respective sound?
Ilth: A few bands worth mentioning are the Fuckin’ Boneshakers in 1995. Recently, Florida label Certified PR put out the demo we recorded. It featured Justin Nobunny on drums and Dan from Vee Dee (a Chicago band) on bass. Shortly after that I played in Das Voltz with Brian McMahon of the Electric Eels. We played out about a dozen times. A few bands in between all that but nothing really worth noting. The Fuckin’ Boneshakers where a bastardized version of garage punk and Das Volts were kinda laidback Lou Reed/VU with Electric Eels covers thrown in.
Oliver: Your name – Christopher Ilth. What does the “Ilth” stand for and what’s the story behind it?
Ilth: I used to go by Dr. Filth in the Functional Blackouts but then started to sign my artwork as ILTH to remain anonymous and ambiguous. Dr. Filth would’ve been misleading, really wouldn’t suit most of my work. Plus I like the idea of a non-word as a name.
Oliver: What sorts of art are you involved with making? I’ve seen collage and sculpture/assemblages – anything else? What all do you have your hands in and what are the materials you use in each of these endeavors?
Ilth: Lately I’m working with antique boxes and stain glass, adding electric light, repurposing old junk for functional use. As far as assemblage, I use old dicarded or broken objects I find at thrift/junk/antique shops & warehouses. For the collages, old books and magazines.
Oliver: Is there a media you prefer to work with? What is it, and why?
Ilth: Mostly collage for the visual narrative. Assemblage tends to be rather abstract and the new light box series is something more of a designer peice – something to complement a preexisting living enviroment. I’m looking to get into stainglass and rebuild my collages as such.
Oliver: Your collages have a very meticulous and detailed quality that reminds me of the sort of stuff you’d see in the 1910s-1930s Dada and Surrealist movements, like when you would see sculpture or found objects presented by Marcel Duchamp. Is that era any sort of inspiration at all? What *does* inspire or influence your works with visual art?
Ilth: I love the Dada and Surrealist movements. I also love the Symbolist painters. But I’m not interested in imitation or nostalgia.
Oliver: A lot of your collages remind me of Max Ernst. Has Ernst been a conscious influence? Also, tell readers about your “Ernst dream”….
Ilth: Yes, I love Ernst’s work. The dream I had…. I was in a long El train (Chicago elevated tracks) over a great body of water (Lake Michigan?). Eventually I followed a few young women into the brush along the water after getting off the train. Under the water, and somehow written in smoke, was the name “Max Ernst.”
Oliver: If you had to list 5 favorite visual artists, who would they be, and why?
Ilth: Arnold Bocklin, Max Ernst, Adolf Wolfli, Joe Coleman, David Lynch, R. Crumb. That’s 6. Many reasons why. I’ll have to come back to that. Also, Bosch.
Oliver: I noticed on your Flickr account when you describe the composition of your work you’re clear to point out that “NO COMPUTER” was involved in the creation of your art. Why do you think this is important to point out?
Ilth: Because it’s made by hand, it’s hand made. I’m not too crazy about the idea of using the computer to build collages. The digital world is unlimited, but I like making the most out of limitations.
Oliver: Do you tend to use vintage magazines or advertisements when approaching a collage? A lot of your stuff has a very “vintage” look and I wonder if that’s because some of the source material is itself vintage, or if there’s some other way you go about achieving that feel?
Ilth: I do use vintage/antique material. I live in the present but would rather use discarded materials of the past.
Oliver: To my mind, there’s also something vaguely Lovecraftian about your stuff – like a peek into a bizarre dimension existing parallel to the Victorian society of 1880-1920. Is that a conscious influence and do you feel like there are any literary influences on your work? There’s something Lovecraftian, HG Wells-eque, about some of your stuff, vaguely sci-fi and horror in the classical sense, a la 1950s Twilight Zone episodes or older stuff….
Ilth: I agree.
Oliver: Some of my favorite collages are the ones that use what I think of as the “alien alphabet” . This alphabet appears in a few works. Did you sit down and design it consciously, and f so, what did you use? Is there a way to translate it? What gave you this idea and how did you make the lettering?
Ilth: I find language to be limiting. Hence visual expression. The collaging of letters and words represent that idea.
Oliver: Back to music for a second — do you think there’s a common philosophy or outlook that informs both the music you make and the artwork you produce? A common theme in Daily Void’s stuff seemed to be paranoia and the neurotic, dehumanizing effect of mass society…. What effect are you going for? If there is some sort of guiding outlook or “goal” of both the music and the visual art, and what is it? If not, what are the differences?
Ilth: With Daily Void I definitely was going for music and artwork with a dystopic aesthetic. Daily Void’s sound? A dirty dirge at an unattended funeral parade.
Oliver: I think you work as an antiques broker….? Is this related to your visual art pursuits, and what are the commonalities between the two? Is there a website where folks can go to see some of the antiques you sell?
Ilth: I like antiques because of the craftsmanship involved. I hate plastic & mass production. Many antiques were mass-produced but have since been lost, destroyed, or damaged. And that, too, I enjoy. The character that something takes on after years and years of existence. You can see a few things iI’m selling and sold on a new Tumblr page, “Raven’s Next Chicago,” at http://ravensnestchicago.tumblr.com/
Oliver: What are your thoughts on “steampunk”?
Ilth: Aghhhh! I don’t know. Some of it’s alright but it suffers from being a corny lifestyle thing. I can’t really put my finger on it.
Oliver: Have you had any exhibitions of your work? If so, where were they and what have the reactions been from people who’ve seen your stuff?
Ilth: Yes, I’ve had half a dozen in the last year. Reactions are positive. I often hear people point out the meticulousness of my work. A notable group show was Tarantisimo Summit (which in addtion to being the first group artshow under this moniker is also a compilation LP series I do). That was a huge success with people being turned away at the door due to limited compacity at the Reversible Eye Gallery here in Chicago.
Oliver: If you had to take 5 bands’ LPs to a desert island, and it was all you had to listen to for the rest of your life, what LPs would they be, and why?
Ilth: In no particular order: PHILLIP GLASS – “Koyaanisqatsi” / ANGELS OF LIGHT “New Mother” / a recording of STEVEN JESSE BERNSTEIN’s song “A Hope to Live” (I don’t know of this being on a record) / DAILY VOID “Identification Code” / THE DUTCHESS & THE DUKE. And there’d be a sixth record: Jonathan Halper – “Leaving My Old Life Behind /I am a Hermit.”
Oliver: Where are some good sites folks can go to if they’re interested in buying your visual artwork? What about the sculpture/assemblages?
Ilth: Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My work can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilth/
Also, I sell junk, antiques, designer pieces, & oddities @ http://ravensnestchicago.tumblr.com/
Santa Muerte Altars