Jeremy Steinke, painter
Interview by James Armstrong
I remember sitting in the Aalto Lounge in Portland, OR, sipping bourbon, and being surrounded by images that skewed my evening. Huge canvases that hung from twenty foot ceilings depicted entirely normal everyday scenes in a way that allowed you to see the melancholy or exuberance behind the mundane tasks being performed by the characters. Two of these canvases, albeit smaller ones, now hang in my apartment. I recently spoke with the artist, Jeremy Steinke.
James: You’ve been living in the Portland area all your life, what’s it like as an artist there?
Jeremy: There’s a phenomenon now with being an artist. There’s a lot of support, but also a lot of patting each other on the back, in a self-congratulatory way—which makes it easy to produce a lot of crap.
James: It’s affordable to live there though right? So people can create that sort of thing without thinking about it.
Jeremy: Most of the artists I went to school with are waiting tables or have two or three other jobs.
James: How hard is it to sell your work out there?
Jeremy: There are some niches that people have been exploiting, but most of the people I know don’t sell that much. You hear that Portland just has a poor market. A teacher told me once that Portland is a great place to make art, before ideally selling it in Seattle. A lot of places in town have been transformed the by the art community – much like New York was in the 60’s and 70’s. There are neighborhoods that were affordable where artists moved in, which created a culture that people wanted to be a part of – making it a trendy place, ensuring that property values and rent would go up – which forced them out.
James: How much time do you have right now to paint?
Jeremy: I have a job delivering office supplies in the morning, which usually allows me to have my afternoons and evenings free. It’s hard to get into a rhythm right now. I tried to paint full-time and do nothing else, before getting burnt out. I can’t spend more than four hours in a day doing it. I need some sort of distraction that’s completely opposite. That works with a part-time job I suppose.
James: What sort of thought process guides your decisions while creating a new work?
Jeremy: Well right now it’s the fear that I’ve been doing the same thing for the last few years. [Most of my previous paintings] come from life drawing, where you draw from the human figure – getting the whole thing down with quick gestures and not getting caught up in the details. I transferred that to my painting technique. I use broad marks and lots of paint and color, throwing things down really fast. It’s very process-oriented, where I build up everything all-over, by looking at an image and putting everything down. I like to use a lot of clumsy materials, such as dried-up old brushes that prevent me from getting caught up in details, because I’ll get too focused on an idea that doesn’t work on the whole. So I try to limit myself in that way. At first it was an experiment, I liked where it was going, but I didn’t think anyone else would – I didn’t care if they did. I just wanted to follow it through. I’ve gotten to the point where I can control more, but I want to make sure that I don’t lose the mysteriousness of it. The paintings that I like the most, the ones I did a few years ago, are the ones I don’t really understand. I just followed my process through and it was very physical. I didn’t know what was really going on with it. In the end I felt satisfied. Now, it’s very formulaic, while also very methodical. I’m worried now that I need to change and that’s what I’m afraid of. I feel like I should be working in a different direction now, that I’ve exhausted what I’ve been doing. Hopefully, I’ll find something that makes no sense and go in that direction.
James: It seems like you take a simplified approach, where you create something that’s more complex – where you can’t really understand it afterwards. Would you envision this change of styles moving away from your basic approach?
Jeremy: Every now and then, I get really frustrated. I run out of ideas and I’ll found old photographs and I’ll setup a still life, doing sort of a photo realism piece that’s really small—whereas my other paintings are really large, with figures coming close to life size. These photo-realism pieces are more about the details and the process of keeping the emotions going in the paintings.
James: In your larger pieces, are the scenes more personal to you, or are you sort of detached from them and that’s why the figures are blurred?
Jeremy: I don’t really think about them. I just let it happen. I get detached working with them and it becomes more about the physicality of paint and materials and objects. I lose track of the significance an image has, but hopefully it comes back in an interesting way. I’m not consciously putting myself or attachments to the individuals into a painting, but the significance of those images can sometimes manifest in a really interesting way that’s not intentional, but something that I may not even be aware of.
To contact Jeremy about purchasing his work, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
James Armstrong is a tired old hack who lives in Manhattan.view all articles from this author