Trove Gallery will present works of Steele
If you can picture the impressionist works of Edgar Degas on barns, the "Mona Lisa" with crayons and Nintendo’s Mario running over landscapes inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, you get the gist of Ben Steele’s paintings.
The artist will be at Trove Gallery on Saturday, Dec. 26, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. to show off some of his new works that combine images and styles of the classics with his own whimsical ideas.
"I’ll have 14 or 15 new pieces that are all different sizes," Steele told The Park Record during a phone call from his studio in Helper. "They will be all different sizes, although I try to vary my shows so those people who can’t have a big painting can have a small one and those who can will be able to get one."
Steele developed the idea of pairing classic images with modern landscapes and themes throughout his career, which started when he signed up for art classes at the University of Utah in the early 2000s.
"I liked drawing and painting, and creating an illusion was and still is appealing to me," Steele said. "I love playing with space. I like taking something that is flat and making it look like a three-dimensional object."
During one class, a professor noticed Steele’s styles and pulled him aside.
"He told me about another artist, David Dornan, who just had retired from the U and ran a school in Helper that offered summer workshops," Steele said. "So, my wife and I moved down here and Dave asked me to serve as an intern."
Dornan, who also shows works at Trove, encouraged Steele to paint things he liked.
"One of the things I painted right away was a crayon because I like colorful things," Steele said. "After doing a couple of crayon paintings, I thought it would be a good idea to paint a coloring page."
Steele wanted to make the work different than just a kid-themed coloring page and turned it into a piece called "Mona Lisa Crayon Page."
"I love art history and that seemed fun to do," Steele said. "All the works I do now snowballed from that. I have done Pez dispensers with Rembrandt’s head and things like that. Things just have grown because one idea led to another."
One of these ideas turned into the work called "Degas Bros.," which features the master’s work, "Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers," on the side of a barn in a circus advertisement.
"I did ‘Degas Bros.’ for a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the gallery’s director loved the circus and asked me to do a circus-themed exhibit," Steele said. "I felt the Vaudeville feeling of the impressionistic Degas dancer would fit perfectly on the barn that I found on the Internet. I thought of the history of advertising on barns and had the idea of turning the Degas work into one of those types of ads."
When Steele uses the art of the masters for his own work, he not only reproduces the images, but also mimics the same methods, textures and styles that are used to paint the original work.
He did that same sort of thing when he created a work called "The Wild Etch," which is a painting of an Etch-A-Sketch depicting a scene from George Roy Hill’s 1969 Academy Award-winning film, "Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid."
"I have Etch-A-Sketches that I have purchased off eBay and play around on them, but I don’t create the image on them for the painting," Steele said. "I mean Etch-A-Sketches are hard to manipulate, so, I just painted the whole idea onto the canvas."
A common theme in many of Steele’s works goes back to crayons and Pez dispensers, but also pencils and other artist’s tools.
"It gets down the core or making art and what you use to do that," he said. "Studying under Dave influenced me in that way, because his paintings about art often depicts drippy paint cans and brushes. So, my works are odes to the mentor."
Steele also likes these objects because they work well with his compositions.
"You can move them and shape the painting in ways that pushes the viewer’s eyes around," he said. "Most of the crayons are shaped like a little arrow and can tell you where to look."
Crayons are also objects many people can relate to.
"They respond to them because they remember playing with them when they were little," he said.
Since Steele tips his hat to so many classic artists, he doesn’t really have a favorite.
"I think the fact that I reference so many of them is a sign of my love for all of them," he said with a laugh. "If I had to pick, I would probably say Rembrandt or Vermeer, as my favorites, but then I love Andy Warhol and his powerful use of image, even if they are so simple in ways."
That poses a little challenge.
"I have to find ways to bring my audience along for the ride, while I’m still investigating where I’m heading, especially now, because I have strayed from painting art-history references to more cultural references and overlapping them," Steele said. "We have such an impermanent and short amount of time on this planet, and the idea that these paintings have meaning to someone and will live longer than me is a nice thought."
Trove Gallery, 804 Main St., will present visual artist Ben Steele on Saturday, Dec. 26, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Steele, who hails from Helper, combines his love of art history with contemporary images. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit troveparkcity.com.
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