Tag Archives: Visual arts

“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?


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.

The late curator and museum director, Henry Hopkins, claimed that “George Geyer’s sculpture toys with the mind.” We hope that this incredible sculpture ignites the fire in your mind and spirit to have a great weekend!

ART FOCUS George Geyer1

“Dinner with an Artist” featuring Alex Zecca

zecca collage radius18

ALEX ZECCA: Collage Radius #18, Ink on Paper (click for more information)

“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 Alex Zecca to discuss his current exhibition: Collage Radii.

Zecca portrait

ARG: Do you remember any experiences in your childhood that sparked your interest in art? Were you drawing straight lines early on? 

AZ:  In the mid 70’s my mother became a film student at San Francisco Art Institute, so from that point on, I grew up in and around the wonderful and crazy extended art communities that created.

Carols Villa, an artist and teach, has been a lifelong mentor and inspiration for my early decisions and understanding about a career dedicated to a studio practice in visual art.

Zecca collage radius 12

Collage Radius #12, Ink on Paper (click for more information)

And yes, the silly irony is, I drew with basically the same tools even when I was 8.

ARG: When we see thousands of lines forming patterns, we know the piece is yours. When and how did you decide to focus entirely on lines? How has the work evolved over the years?

AZ: After years of adding more and more elaborate processes to my oil paintings, I needed drastic simplifying. Also, the solvents, pigments, and alkyds were undoubtedly killing me slowly. So, almost 10 years ago I had a turning point, and knew I was ready for the deconstruction of my process. It had to be simple, direct, and sincere.

I wanted immediacy as well as a good platform for mixing color, which had always been the main focus of my work. As it turns out, the answer for me was the action of drawing a straight line from edge to edge. It is completely fulfilling, meditative, and focusing. For me, this wonderfully simple mark, has it all!

Now after years, a million or so straight lines, and adding a little registration with some Zecca handssimple math to this process, the work has evolved into the moiré dimension in a way I could have never imagined. But it is still built upon the same simple principle of repeated action.

ARG: We’re mesmerized by the thousands of lines and the sensation we feel when we view your paintings, drawings, and collage pieces up close and at a distance. You mention that your work is an “exercise in precision and focus”. What are your specific challenges as you express yourself?

 AZ: The specific challenges in making these drawings are typical: don’t screw it up, or spill coffee on it – which I’ve gotten really good at… But being focused and mindful of my body position is the real exercise. The drawing action is a Tai Chi-like, whole body movement. The only way I can make such work is to be very aware of the mechanics of my drawing action. Have good form, balance and posture, and most importantly, shake it out, and stretch it out, a lot.

ARG: We can’t imagine how much patience it must take to create these pieces. Can you tell us about your process? Do you envision the completed work prior to picking up your pens?

 AZ: The drawings are multiple overlaid radii sequences. In other words, I draw a line to each registration point covering the field with one color, reregister the ruler, change color, and repeat. Over and over until I get saturation and  a new and unpredictable moiré pattern. I have some idea of how it will turn out but slight adjustments to the pattern of the fixed ruler’s placement have a huge affect on the moirés outcome. As much as I may try to control or anticipate the result, the discovery and surprise of the finished piece is the whole deal!

ARG: Do you ever create anything entirely different from these linear works? Are you ever tempted to make a “squiggle”?

Zecca KidsAZ:  I love squiggles and scribbles and all that loose, fun stuff, too – I’ve got kids. I Just never mixed that with the real serious business of drawing straight lines.

ARG: How did this body of work, “Collage Radii,” evolve? The collages emit a wonderful sense of freedom, almost as if controlled chaos was introduced to allow a different dimension to emerge.

 AZ: They grew out of more compulsive processes. Namely cutting my drawings in to long triangle strips, thousands of them, with the intention of assembling these radius pieces. This collage work was my attempt at loose and dynamic.

Collage Radius #3, Ink on Paper

Collage Radius #3, Ink on Paper (Click for more information)

ARG: Can you tell us a little bit about where your studio space is located and how you work? Also, do you work in silence or do you have background music playing?

Zecca DogAZ: I have a small studio in my beautiful backyard. Which is a wonderful place to be, but mostly makes both the work and my family readily accessible. My two 80+ lb Ridgebacks and I enjoy listening to Giants baseball games on the radio, PBS, and the Howard Stern Show. Music too, we like the heavy stuff, loud! Rarely a silent moment, but it all helps me focus, and laugh, and cry.

 ARG: You have spent a good portion of your life in San Francisco. Has the city or its environs had an influence on your work?

 AZ:  I’m not sure in what way SF has influenced my work, but a lifetime here has made me so connected to, and totally dependent on, the city. Just like the way so many Manhattanites can’t function off the island. It’s a bit like that. And of course, I’m also jaded and bitter…

ARG: Funny how that happens. Here’s one for fun: If you could meet two artists (current or historical), who would they be and what would you ask them?

AZ: I’d talk anything technical with Gerhard Richter, and have a drink and smoke with Francis Bacon.

Zecca collage radius 11

Collage Radius #11, Ink on Paper (Click for more information)

ARG: Great choices! We toast you and your latest wonderful exhibition with ANNE REED GALLERY. Is there anything you would like our guests to know about you or your work before this dinner conversation ends?

AZ: Nothing more… I toast you back. And thank you for your thoughtful questions. I’m always so grateful for inquiry and conversation about my work, so thanks for that.

ARG: Thank you Alex, we look forward to many more discussions with you!