rag picker paintings

in february 2013, after finishing 6 large paintings for my upcoming exhibitions this fall, i called the folks who build my stretchers and they told me there was a problem with the linen production and that i would have to wait at least a month for it to be back in stock. since i was nearly halfway through with the body of work, i didn’t really want a 4-6 week break without being able to continue the work. a few days later, i called them back and asked if they would build me a few with canvas instead… which caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised. “you know steve, you have been working with this linen for nearly 15 years, the new material is really going to be different “… of course, i figured it would be a bit different, but how much could the surface determine – particularly for a painter whose surfaces are generally so thick that the weave of the linen’s surface was never visible. before hanging up the phone i told the guy laughingly “who knows”… it might lead to something new.

when the canvasses arrived, i started to lay down a ground of nearly 90% water and 10% acrylic. in the past, the gesso that was used on the linen would not absorb a mixture of that much water, and would usually bead off the surface of the ground, but with this first canvas, the cloth seemed to suck the watery paint through the gesso – giving it a very very different feel to the surface as well as the look of the paint itself. and on that first day working with the new material surface, i realized that my joke about leading to something new was less a joke and more a shove into some new territory… and suddenly i saw the potential in using different materials towards a big-time shift.

for the last 20 years i would say that most people who know the paintings, especially in person, have responded to two physical qualities in the work – a patina (an aged looking surface) and a “gunky” surface (thick thick paint), both were artifacts of layering mistakes over mistakes, until an image would be wrought out of the mess. with the new ways that the watered down acrylic could be applied, the process of making a painting was different, and when when the oil was laid down, it was much thinner – more absorbent of light – and everything laid down much slower than before.

the first few people who visited the studio all asked me if the paintings were finished – which was a really good barometer,  since no one had ever asked me that question. it was clear that these early responses were not 100% determined by the paintings, but how these paintings did not conform completely to people’s expectations of my work, particularly if they knew the work well. what was exciting about those exchanges was that the work was clearly shifting – and while it is easy to convince yourself you are evolving, it’s much more plausable if others can sense it. (which means i wasn’t just talking the talk, but walking the walk!).

what is important – particularly if one is attempting to continually grow rather than remain consistent – is that the shifts resonate enough so that others can see or sense them. and so, in these new paintings,  i feel like things are moving forwards, not just “better” but pushing things out of a comfort zone. so i took the logical step of placing the february paintings beneath a tarp, so as not to include them in the show… and i began working on a group of canvas surfaces and basically starting over.

along with the technique shift, i began to work with a series of graphic marks that i had notated while working in the walter benjamin archives, each a different graphic action to cover up mistakes in his notebooks. i put each of the 40 marks on a series of index cards, pulling them at random and layering each one over the next in thin layers to develop a kind of lattice work (organic and messy). i then looked as the mass of pattern and began to find anchor points, architectures, branches, spiderwebs, etc. to be used as  foundation points or areas where shapes would evolve into  forms.

the paintings were shown in sibling exhibitions at CRG gallery in ny and susanne vielmetter la projects in sept. of 2013.