“Dinner with an Artist” was inspired by the many dinners ANNE REED GALLERY’s owner, Barbi Reed, has had the pleasure of enjoying with gallery artists over the years. It was during these dinners that the conversation twisted and turned to the delight of all sitting around the table. There was no more perfect way to relax and enjoy the camaraderie of artist, collectors, and staff after the intensity of curating, preparing for, and installing an exhibition. Today, we invite you to this virtual dinner table conversation with Monika Steiner. ANNE REED GALLERY is thrilled to announce our representation of Monika. We invited her to our virtual table to answer a few questions about her background, her work and the paintings in her first solo exhibition, The Timeless, at ANNE REED GALLERY.
ARG: Let’s start by discussing the recent focus of your work: spheres, which we see in The Timeless exhibition. We know from your artist statement that you have always been interested in metaphysics and are fascinated by the sphere because of its “elegance and efficiency”. Can you explain how this fascination began and its ongoing role in your work?
MS: My curiosity with circular shapes began early. In Egypt I saw firsthand the sun god “Ra” depicted with a circle over his head. Almost every culture or religion, in one form or another, used the circle as a spiritual symbol of unity, wholeness and enlightenment. I became fascinated by how such a simple shape can express as powerful of a concept as one’s mystical sense of oneness.
After a series of paintings of two dimensional circles I started to render them as spheres. The sphere encloses the greatest amount of volume yet uses the least amount of surface area. Nature uses this form to structure everything from the sub atomic world all the way up to the shape of planets. We subconsciously resonate with something powerful in the face of that kind of mathematical perfection.
On a technical level, it challenges me to draw, freehand, perfect circles. Arranging the sizes and colors of the spheres and integrating them into a non-static background is hard, but when I get it right, the pieces have a balance and harmony of composition that invokes this sense of wholeness and unity, properties of the shape itself I wanted to communicate.
MS: My ultimate intention with my abstract oil paintings is that the art would give viewers some access to their own perception process– feeling something they can’t explain because they can’t label it like a realistic image. It’s like the painting opens up a space between where its surface ends and the viewer’s mind gyrations begin.
ARG: We’re intrigued by the titles of your paintings. Can you tell us about how you decide on each title and its significance? For instance, we’re interested in the genesis of Released I and Released II, the two most recent paintings in your exhibition?
MS: I generally title my paintings before beginning them and I am thinking of a feeling or an idea that I want to express abstractly. For example, Released I&II are about emotional release and in the end that concept is clear in each painting in that one sphere that is far less integrated with its surroundings compared to the others. But that wasn’t a result of conscious design, more just thoughts and feelings influencing the process and the unconscious mind solving the representational problem.
ARG: We found a short Youtube video in which you discuss your painting technique of layering. In it, you state, “More layers make a richer painting.” Can you tell us more about your layering process and how this technique allows you to achieve your vision? We’re curious if you start with a specific vision or if you allow the painting to evolve as new layers inform you?
MS: I carefully plan compositions before I start. The placement in the sphere paintings is hard to change later, so I sketch it out first in charcoal. With the sphere shapes it is very important that everything stays in balance throughout the process otherwise the whole piece in the end feels “off”. Besides the composition, I have to balance the light and dark tones of each sphere and integrate them with the background. I paint the lightest colors first; those warm tones penetrate through the additional layers of paint and make the piece glow in the end. Even a one-toned piece, bluish grey for instance, can be warmed up with an initial layer of light yellow tint underneath. Those first layers are hardly visible in the end but are essential to chromatically harmonize the painting.
By layering glazes on top of each other I can achieve a nice radiance and the transparency of the drips can be seen if you look at an individual sphere close up. All those layers are very subtle but make the piece much richer.
ARG: We noticed that you have created sculpture in the past. Do you continue to work in this medium?
MS: Yes, I still do bronze sculptures, although, my main focus has always been painting.
My approach to sculpture is conceptual like the paintings, using emotions or concepts to create abstract shapes that are unique and timeless. With bronze I am using the ancient lost wax process, still done the same way today, so the ageless quality of the process is always with you – but so is the labor intensive work of it – modeling the piece first in wax, making a shell, melting the wax out of the shell, pouring the bronze in, destroying the shell, sandblasting, chasing and finally adding a patina. It still fascinates me every time I see the red hot molten bronze being poured into its shell where it will transform itself back into a solid that will outlive us all.
ARG: You were born in Switzerland. When did you come to this country and has your “multi-cultural” experiences affected your work?
MS: I came to the USA in 2000 and I do believe that my multicultural background and my travels throughout the world have affected my work. My jewelry making background influenced my sculpture; having to adapt to a new culture and going through a life transition made me realize how painting can be a creative channel to go deeper within myself. I know it has also helped to have inherited a Swiss work ethic.
ARG: Now you live in the Bay Area and recently had a baby. Where do you paint and how do you balance motherhood with your commitment to being an artist?
MS: I am lucky that my painting studio is at my home and that I have a nanny two days a week. It is definitely a challenge time wise to balance motherhood and being a professional artist but I am very dedicated to my work, which has always been my passion. I worked very hard to get where I am now as an artist. I treasure every minute with my daughter and I am trying to be as present as I can with our time together yet I found that having both, work and motherhood, helps me learn to balance my life.
ARG: We have found that many artists have been interested in art since they were children. Did you have any early childhood experiences that sparked your interest in art or mentors that affected the direction of your work?
MS: I always loved art, but growing up on a small farm village where art was considered a hobby, not a “real profession”, was challenging. I became a teacher there instead of an artist but I always did creative things on the side – pottery, jewelry making, drawing, painting, etc. It was only when I came to the USA and couldn’t work as a teacher that I realized it was finally my chance to pursue my passion and study art. One of my teachers at SSU definitely influenced me and sparked my interest in abstract art. His encouragement made me believe I could pursue this career.
ARG: And now, do you have contemporary or historical role models who continue to inspire you?
MS: There are some artists that I feel an immediate connection to: subtle things like Cy Twombly’s or Jay Kelly’s very minimal pieces. I find it intriguing and especially challenging to create quiet, almost, “silent”, pieces of art. Less “loud” in the sense of color and form is a direction I feel myself headed.
ARG: We raise our glass to you and to your latest beautiful exhibition with ANNE REED GALLERY. Although we’ve many more questions for you, perhaps we should end this conversation by asking if there is there anything else you’d like to say either about your work or anything else.
MS: Thank you so much! These were very thoughtful questions. I can’t think of anything else, just that I feel honored to be represented by your beautiful gallery.