Out of parts found at garage sales, flea markets, and antique shops, Jason Stieva creates incredibly complex gothic sculptures. His assemblage art features hundreds of little intricate pieces including skulls, figures, gears, and a wide variety of other little details.
A tattoo artist by trade, Stieva originally started assembling these sculptures as a hobby, but the last few years have propelled him into more widespread recognition, allowing for the sculptures to be a more serious artistic pursuit.
“Leviathan – Ark of the Apocalypse”
Perhaps Stieva’s best known work is his colossal pirate ship sculpture titled “Leviathan” Ark of the Apocalypse. It was this complex, tangled pirate ship that helped boost Stieva’s sculptural career to new heights, earning him features in many art publications such as MyModernMet.
Standing at a towering 8 feet high (custom stand included), the sculpture took Stieva 14 months of work to complete. The ship is full to the brim with savage and intriguing characters, animals, and creatures. Every inch carefully detailed and pored over. From the gears on the bottom of the ship, to the dozens of cannons protruding from the side, to the intricate fencing, ship trim, and multi-layered crow’s nests, Leviathan has a lot to take in. One could easily spend hours examining each and every feature. A quote by Stieva gives us a small glimpse into the process of making Leviathan:
“There is a lot of extremely tedious detail from front to back, top to bottom. Just severing the army heads alone and sanding the back of each to be certain they would sit flush once applied with tweezers took weeks. Sourcing all the characters took quite a while. Redesigning, taking apart, rebuilding, and making the ark structurally sound long before any sculpting began took quite a while”Jason Stieva, in an interview with MyModernMet (2018)
Leviathan now rests at one of Stieva’s tattoo clients’ house, but Stieva reportedly still visits it every now and then, as a cathartic reminder for just how much work he put into it.
“Overall it was the most daunting project I’ve ever worked on and will probably ever create.”Jason Stieva, in an interview with MyModernMet (2018)
While Leviathan may be Stieva’s most well-known and largest sculpture, it’s just one of dozens in his Gothic Times series, a collection of works spanning an impressive 15 years. Below are some more entries in the series, as well as some insights into the process of creating them.
“Together We Rise”
Sourcing the parts and pieces, assembling, painting, texturing, and framing are all the different time-consuming endeavors that Stieva undertakes to produce a finished sculpture. Each step can take weeks or months from start to finish. And that’s without mentioning the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making the sculptures structurally-sound and sturdy.
So how does Jason make these incredible sculptures? On Stieva’s instagram account, you can see his sculptures in various stages of completion. The process begins with inspiration. According to MyModernMet, the inspiration for Leviathan came from Stieva seeing a model of a tallship mounted on the ceiling of a store he frequented.
Once the idea is there, sourcing the parts becomes the next hurdle. Stieva acquires parts and pieces from all over. The Gothic Times series apparently began shortly after Stieva bought part of a clockmaker’s estate. Many of the gears and small clock pieces from that acquisition can be seen in a few of his sculptures, including all over the bottom of Leviathan. Apart from estate sales, Stieva gets his materials from garage sales, antique shops, flea markets, and countless other sources.
Once there are enough parts to get started, it’s on to assembly. There are many ways to put the pieces together. Adhesives, welding, and other methods are used to construct the sculpture. Along the way, acquisition of new parts, pieces, and figures make their way in. Parts are shuffled, moved around, added, removed, and re-configured. Action figures, toys, army men, strings, ropes, skulls, bones, antlers, and all sorts of other bits make their way into the final work.
After assembly, it’s on to painting. After looking through Shallow Grave Studio’s instagram page, the unpainted sculptures sometimes seem to be as impressive as their painted versions. But the act of painting the sculptures seems to serve multiple purposes. Since the sculptures are assemblages of hundreds of parts sourced from all over, painting the finished piece allows for a more coherent impression, making each work into a single whole as opposed to something that’s comprised out of many pieces. The paint also serves to give each sculpture a molded, drippy, organic quality that fits in perfectly with the macabre aesthetic of the work.
Once the sculpture is painted, the work of framing and mounting takes over. Many of Stieva’s sculptures are mounted on frames that are as intricate as the sculptures they feature. Most of the time, the frames are as much a part of the sculpture as the sculpture itself.
“Head Fulla Brains..Shoes Fulla Feet”
“Preacherman and the Union of Funk”
“Piper and the Wisemen”
One of the earlier entries in the Gothic Times series, Piper and the Wisemen is one of Stieva’s favorite pieces. It’s a unique entry in the series due to the velvet-lined case featuring a deer skull in the middle of the piece. Stieva explains below how the name of the sculpture came about:
“I called the piece Piper and the Wisemen because, if you look at the very top, you’ll will see what I refer to as the pied piper with his arms outstretched casting a spell for all his motley minions except for the three wisemen that are on the second tier that work together devising the master plan. That’s sort of where the name came from.”Jason Stieva, in an interview with BeautifulBizzare (2015)
About the Artist
Stieva now divides his time between his tattoo practice—called Shallow Grave Studios (previously Sinful Inflictions)—and his sculptural work. The two artistic disciplines are very different from a technical and mechanical perspective, but the content of his tattoo work and sculptures have a lot of overlap. Much of Stieva’s tattoo work also features the gothic and macabre.
Sculpting is a lot different than tattooing which I can do anytime. With sculptures, I have to be in the mood to work on them and not be forced with deadlines.Jason Stieva, in an interview with MyModernMet (2018)
In an interview with BeautifulBizzare, Jason explains the origin of his fascination with the Gothic genre below:
“I’ve always been intrigued by art and gothic architecture as far back as I can remember. Then I was introduced to the country of Europe in 1997 – I’d never flown before, but I went ahead and bought a one way ticket and a train pass, and headed out on a solo mission. I was instantly hooked on the atmosphere, the people, the architecture, the art galleries, the churches, the graveyards, and the catacombs. I loved the big cities as well as the small towns – it’s just a different way of life and it’s a big inspiration behind my tattooing, sculpting and most of my art in general. I make a point of making regular pilgrimages back to Europe to recharge and get away, and come back inspired and hungry to create.”Jason Stieva, in an interview with BeautifulBizzare (2015)
You can follow Jason Stieva and his work through the Shallow Grave Studios instagram account.