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You’ll see artist Eve De Haan’s neon pink installations glowing fervently from the windows of Shaw’s 11:Eleven Gallery before even stepping inside, which is just how she likes it. De Haan, who also goes by her pseudonym Half A Roast Chicken, is a London-based artist whose kicky and vibrant scrawls have already shown in her hometown as well as France, L.A., and now in a D.C. art gallery that specializes in contemporary and urban British art. With her SELF HELP exhibit, the neon artist explores the role technology—and art—plays in manipulating our mindsets to, with a little rosiness, lead lives more joyful and positive.
SELF HELP is on view through Jan. 22 and before De Haan dismantles the neon installations, we spoke to the artist about her first D.C. show, embracing self help, and the joys of hot pink. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Washington City Paper: Tell us about the creative process behind SELF HELP. Why this show, and why now?
Eve De Haan: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been interested in self-progression. I started reading lots of self-help books, and I’m really interested in the idea of shifting your perspective on positive thinking and how that can change your experience with it. I wanted to make some artwork that was really all about self-help.
In the past, it’s just been self-help books. But now, because we can digest self-help through many different mediums, I thought it was interesting to see some of the quotes that I liked in some of the books that I’ve read, but in neon. That’s how it came about.
WCP: How did you relate the idea of positivity to D.C.?
EDH: I think it’s a universal thing. Especially now, coming out of a pandemic, the start of the new year. I hope [the show] speaks to everyone. I like the idea that not everyone is going to love it, not everyone is going to understand it, but that’s like the notion of self-help. You have to dip your toe into it to get into it. I thought that it was really nice that it was in Washington because it was a new territory for me to show my artwork, and I just hope it touches some people there. That’s really why I do it.
WCP: Why is spreading or capturing joy a priority for you?
EDH: I’ve thought about that at length. When I think about why I’m on this earth, or the reason why I would like to make art, or make a difference, [it] is for [joy]. It’s really important for me that anything I make is positive. It doesn’t always have to be hard-hitting, but I think the only way we can evolve, or progress, is to maintain positivity and always hold on to that notion of positivity. It’s just such an important part of my personal life that it bled into my work. It’s the only thing I think [that] has to be a constant in my work.
WCP: The color of SELF HELP is pink(!). How does it relate to this concept of positivity and self-help?
EDH: Obviously hot pink is my favorite color to use in everything because it’s so abrupt, and so in-your-face. When I see the color pink it makes me happy. The reason why I chose it has nothing to do with gender connotations. It’s a happy color for me. I think it reminds me of my childhood. My daughters love the color. I love their rooms being filled with that one happy color. It seems to me it married well with the statement.
WCP: It’s also a natural color—bright and found in nature.
EDH: Don’t you think it’s a color that never really leaves you from childhood as well? I need to think about it more, but the color pink was such a big presence when I was growing up, I feel like it’s one of those staple colors that makes me feel good.
WCP: How did you get into art?
EDH: I studied theology at university, which was fascinating. I loved it—words, and how we can argue and prove a point through speaking. After, I was like, “What am I going to do?” I realized art was the best vehicle for me to make that positive change. … I sort of jumped in and went straight out of uni and just decided “I’m going to do an exhibition,” and I didn’t look back.
WCP: Why neon?
EDH: Neon is the perfect medium to convey what you’re trying to say, but very abruptly. And I thought that was interesting. … I was in a taxi in New York, and I remember I saw a hot pink building just kind of exuberating pink out the windows. I was like, “What is this!?” I stopped and I ran out and somebody had an album launch and they had all neons all over the walls and I remember [thinking] this is incredible. When I came back home, I signed up for a course and learned how to bend. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
WCP: Can you explain your pseudonym, Half A Roast Chicken?
EDH: When I graduated, I wasn’t sure what name to use. I really loved the idea of my name having nothing to do with my artwork—of having a disconnect between the name and the art. It’s my alter ego, which has nothing to do with my artwork, and I hope that when people hear it makes them smile.
It gave me a little bit of freedom to be less worried about what sort of artwork I was making at the beginning. Because it wasn’t connected to my actual name, I felt more free to make … more free artwork. And then it just stuck.
WCP: I often hear writers talk about book chapters getting shorter thanks to social media conditioning readers to want information punchier and faster. Do you think about audiences’ attention spans when you’re creating?
EDH: That seeps into art as well. That’s why having neon as my preferred medium is the perfect way to try to engage viewers. I love art that doesn’t seem like art. You know, sometimes you walk past it and think, “Oh, that’s cool,” but you don’t actually think, “Oh that’s a piece of art, someone’s put it there, someone’s trying to sell it to you.” Imposter art!
WCP: How does the idea of “self-help” interact with your theme of technology?
EDH: I think all of my work subconsciously deals with … technology’s effect on our relationships. I always feel that the way social media is impacting us, or me personally, has a lot to do with how we communicate with each other—the type of language we use, how we use it. So the self-help phrases, they’re all pretty punchy and short, because I wanted to emulate what I see on Instagram as well. That can also be a form of self-help.
I do think that’s one of the positive things that can come out of social media. A lot of time I’m talking about the negative effects, but I do think that’s one of the positives: making self-help and self-help phrases more palatable and accessible.
WCP: How do you define self-help?
EDH: There’s a quote that I think really sums it up. Herbert Spencer said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” I think if we approach self-help from professional growth—rather than thinking of it just as achieving goals—that’s how I feel self-help is beneficial. So to answer your question, I think self-help is information or things that we can put into practice to make ourselves or our lives better.
It’s not the destination, it’s more about making an active choice to grow or use self-help to make yourself better.
If you look at self-help a certain way, it could be deemed as negative or unhelpful, but it’s really more about having gems, in a book, that you can just pick up and read. And you don’t have to do everything they say in the book, but if you can take something from it, or even if it makes you feel like you should act on making your life better in some way, I feel like that’s ultimately fantastic.
WCP: How do you stay inspired? Where do you get your ideas?
EDH: I always took inspiration from Bruce Nauman, who’s also a neon artist. He says if you’re an artist, anything you make is art. So I think to be inspired is just to have confidence in yourself, and just create. Once you start believing in yourself, you imagine what you can create and what you can do. Self-confidence is something we’re all working on continuously, but once you allow yourself to be what or who you want to be, that’s where the magic can happen.
Half A Roast Chicken’s SELF HELP runs through Jan. 22 at 11:Eleven Gallery. 11elevengallery.com. Free.