Tag Archives: Oil Paintings

“Dinner with an Artist” featuring Monika Steiner

“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.

Monika Steiner: Released I, Oil on Wood

Monika Steiner: Released I, Oil on Wood

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.

ARG: Can you speak more the  “ultimate intention” of your abstract work? Image

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?

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Monika Steiner: Cascade, Oil on Wood

 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.

Monika Steiner: Pendulums, Bronze

Monika Steiner: Pendulums, Bronze

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?

Monika Steiner, Far Away, Oil on Wood

Monika Steiner, Far Away, Oil on Wood

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.

Cy Twombly: Scattered Blossoms (SmithsonianMag.com)

Cy Twombly: Scattered Blossoms (SmithsonianMag.com)

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.

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“Dinner with an Artist” featuring Brad Durham

“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 Brad Durham to discuss his current exhibition: Catching Light I and II, and much more…

Artist BRAD DURHAM in his studio.

Artist BRAD DURHAM in his studio.

ARG: What early influences sparked your appreciation for and creation of art?  

BD: When I was three, I had a sitter who took me to the beach to do watercolors. In many ways these early experiences with forms and colors became my first language.

ARG: Are there any contemporary and/or historical artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, etc… who have or continue to inspire you? 

BD: When I finish a painting, I always imagine asking Rothko and Giacometti if it’s good enough.  That’s because I find Rothko’s paintings to be meditations on the divine, and Giacometti’s works express the essence of humanity and the human condition. Both Rothko and Giacometti have a stillness and meditative quality that I find meaningful.

ARG: We’d enjoy hearing about your studio space. Can you describe it for us?

BD: Studios are always an issue. I lived in Los Angeles lofts for 15 years and there is a dynamic and immediacy to living and working in the same space that fuels creativity. But, at one point, I wanted to have some separation.  Now, my studio in Minneapolis is actually perfect. The house came with a large work studio that’s twenty steps from the back door, which allows for separation but also for those flash creative moments.

ARG: When you moved from Southern California to Minnesota several years ago, did that affect your work and if so, in what way?

BD: For my growth as an artist I needed change. I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and began to realize that that familiarity wasn’t beneficial to my maturing. It was quite unexpected to end up in Minnesota, a state off the radar of many. My wife and I visited two friends here and immediately felt at home. The changes to my work were instantaneous – the paintings now have a life between the dimensions that I didn’t know possible.

ARG: Besides the softness inherent in your work and the calm that elicits from your imagery, we are captivated by your choice of trees in your paintings and magnolia flowers in your prints. Why are these icons particularly special for you?

BD: Every artist finds a form that reflects his/her own voice. Mine just happens to be Nature. Goethe said that Nature is “the living garment of God” and that artists are a kind of priest who, in their creations, mimic in an effort to resolve the contradictions between the subjective and objective worlds. My interest is memories, and how we create them to connect these worlds.

Durham Closer

BRAD DURHAM: Closer, oil on canvas.

ARG: You mention in your artist statement that the marks of coloration on your paintings are intentionally preserved, but not intentionally made. Can you explain more about why you have you chosen to allow these marks to remain rather than cover them?

BD: I feel the maturity in my work reflects my understandings. I paint not to make a perfect painting but rather a painting that reflects an honesty. What I mean by this, is that I want the viewer to know that each of my paintings contains many false starts, ‘mistakes’, restarts; that I’m not trying to present a finished product but rather moments filled with observations and brushstrokes, some started and finished, some not. I want to show the process of thoughts and reflections – that connectedness is not a static moment but rather ever forming.

ARG: And what about your process in making your prints?  You refer to these as a “monoprint edition.”  What does this mean?

BD: A monoprint edition is a set of prints that contain similar imagery. However each print is uniquely hand worked for variations. With the MAGNOLIA series in the show, I created nine graphic icons of magnolias. Once a layer is created, I apply Japanese Kozo papers to the surface for the coloration.

BRAD DURHAM: Magnolia 5, monoprint edition.

BRAD DURHAM: Magnolia 5, monoprint edition.

ARG: Let’s end with just a few questions for fun. Do you listen to the radio or music when you work? If so, what is your favorite station, type of music?

BD: I’m trying to learn a new instrument, the guitar, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Al Petteway and Amy White’s music lately. At the end of the day when I’m cleaning up I generally listen to NPR to stay current with the issues

ARG: When not in your studio working, what do you do for fun?

BD: In Los Angeles I used to play the bag pipes but since moving here it’s been the Irish flute. There is something so simultaneously joyful and sad about Irish music that I find it compelling.

ARG: Would you care to tell us about what you might be thinking about for future exhibitions or new series?

BD: I’m in the middle of a big commission right now that is pretty specific and doesn’t allow for much exploration so while I’m working on these paintings I use the time to visualize.   As I have a show in June in Michigan, I suspect we’ll see how the visions take form.

ARG: Thanks, Brad. We’ve so enjoyed sharing a conversation over a “virtual dinner” with you and look forward to more time with you in the future.  Cheers!