Santa Fe, NM
Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, June 17-July 1
This story was featured in the June 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
“It all started with crayons,” says Ben Steele. Sure, lots of painters could say that, referring to chubby little 3-year-old fingers wrapped around Crayolas, which eventually led to an art career. But for Steele, crayons as still life represented his initial foray into subjects that veered away from the traditional. Since then the 38-year-old Utah-based artist has reinterpreted a range of cultural icons and familiar images by combining classical art training with exceptional talent, a contemporary sensibility, and a slyly humorous twist.
A solo show opening Friday, June 17, at Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art in Santa Fe brings together some 15 new works that reprise various themes Steele calls his “greatest hits.” Among these: art history, western icons, crayons and coloring-book pages, museum observation paintings, old barns, motels, and “other stuff,” he says. The show, entitled Ben Steele: A Retro Perspective, kicks off with an artist’s reception on opening night from 5 to 7 p.m. and runs through Friday, July 1.
Gallery owner Deborah Fritz notes that there are “several levels for one to grasp Ben’s artistic genius. Not only is he a great painter, but his subject matter captivates our clients and causes them to pause and look deeper.” One reason for pausing to look again is that most of Steele’s works begin with an image we think we know because we’ve seen it countless times—a milk carton, Crayola box, Van Gogh painting, or a still from a classic western film. But he plays with the image by inserting it into a new context, juxtaposing images, or cleverly incorporating art-history references and famous artists’ styles.
Steele’s first crayon still life was a response to the suggestion by painter David Dornan to “paint things you like.” That led to trompe l’oeil coloring-book pages, which opened into seemingly endless possibilities inspired by objects we see every day. “Using cultural icons is appealing because we all have some kind of relationship with them—we instantly identify with them,” Steele says. “That, to me, is the jumping-off point. Then the question is: How can I repackage, recycle, rework, or reinvent them? From there, we get to see something familiar in a new, different way.” —Gussie Fauntleroy
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