Altamira Fine Art Scottsdale is pleased to welcome Ben Steele for a solo exhibition, Saddle Up, opening March 21st.
Please join us for an Artist Reception Thursday, March 23, from 7-9pm during the ArtWalk.
Ben Steele rides freely between art historical iconography and Western tropes—terrain of his own making.
He keeps all these cultural currents in play, through play.
He considers himself a storyteller, navigating narratives at once quirky and layered, open to infinite interpretations.
It all began with a box of crayons: classically trained as a painter, Steele felt his voice emerge decades ago with a series of painted crayon boxes. Color theory mashed with context and cultural cues, with hue titles hinged on winking associations and the boxes themselves brandishing contemporary references.
What seemed like a side road turned into a concourse of his journey as an artist. Concurrently, he’d been honing his painterly chops by creating meticulous scenes reflected in chrome—compositions that challenged him technically but failed to engage his imagination in the way the crayons did.
The chrome series felt like a dead end. It felt finite, Steele says. I couldn’t tell the larger stories I wanted to. The chrome felt stifling. Part of the process, for me, has been learning how to see things.
I have the skills to paint, but what stories do I want to tell? The crayons felt more open. They seemed ever-expanding instead of contracting. They held my interest, and I trusted that they would do the same for my audience.
Now, Steele follows his narrative curiosity down one of two routes: Unbounded or framed. For instance, a new work, inspired by Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory, exemplifies a freewheeling composition.
While certain aspects are prescribed by the original—like melting objects draped and dangling—most of the components are open to his imagination, even after giving it the title, The Persistence of the West.
Inventing elements like an all-seeing Mount Rushmore complicate, rather than clarify, the surrealism underpinning the composition. The work will feel unresolved until suddenly, it comes together by his brush. That one will take a minute to work out he says.
Such a painting speaks to the wide-open-spaces segment of his Western-inflected voice.
On the flipside, another new work—inspired by the subtle scandal suggested by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings—hews more closely to the concepts of the original.
By pixelating out the pistil of the flower, Steele engages with the subjectivity surrounding censorship and the absurdity of such interpretations of organic forms and art.
I’m telling a joke of the flower becoming inappropriate, he says. The pixilation draws more attention, rather than diverting it. I paired the softness of O’Keeffe’s flowers with the grid, which feels so modern and destructive. I liked the juxtaposition.
Every painting by Steele unfolds, in his studio, on the gallery wall.
The more they are considered, the more they offer. Like an onion: In his work, the prospect of peeling back the layers is always at play.
Contact the gallery for details, 480-949-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org