In Among the Shrubbery Eli West creates a colorful and joyful ecosystem that reimagines online cruising culture in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He invites the viewer down a rabbit hole into a garish and playful space. He builds an exciting landscape composed of benign moments, fever dreams, and a raw desire for human touch in a time of social distancing. Ranging from beautifully affirming to wildly toxic, sometimes all within the same moment. The collective imagery of Among the Shrubbery speaks to the multilayered and complex relationships West is presented with by the contemporary queer world in which he exists. Using forms, suggesting glory holes, West gives an entryway into a world of worms and semen, an invisible underground bursting with life. Prodding body parts and vintage Nokia cell phones are all characters in this ambiguously sweet, dark and hedonistic world that exists to play, fuck and perpetuate pleasure.
For West, this work is a culmination of his experiences during the COVID-19 quarantine, and his relationship with fiber as a medium. The pieces in Among the Shubbery are created using studio scraps donated by Oakland artist Meghan Shimek. As well all natural fibers sourced from a large alpaca fiber farm, where West works as a production designer. To create these works West utilizes a variety of needle and wet felting techniques, this allows him to produce unique textured painterly images with a high degree of precision and detail. Often overlooked by the world of high brow contemporary art, Wests chosen medium of fiber pushes back against these predisposed ideas of high and low culture, while also building a parallel to how the queer experience is often overlooked within our society. His desire to work in felt is born from a space of agitation and pressure, the very elements that are required to transform raw fiber into felt. Held in congruence with the artist’s playful impulsiveness, these material qualities also become emblematic of his experience as a queer gay male in contemporary culture which requires an equivalent amount of agitation, pressure, transformation and playfulness as a matter of survival.