Joe Steiner at ARC Gallery, through June 21
The painter, Joe Steiner, has been his own favorite subject for the past 50 years, though he has addressed his personal image with more curiosity than satisfaction. “Who is that man in the mirror?” he always seems to ask. Answers have ranged from “cute young dude” (age 25) to “wizened old sage” (age 75). Humor and bewilderment characterize the intervening years, and he’s more than a little chagrined by the aging of his sagging body.
His work is less about the expressive possibilities of painting. But though he’s self taught, he has become much more adept than those who are limited by the photographs that they copy. He paints spatial relationships as they appear from a single point-of-view, so his paintings naturally display a one-point perspective. This can be rather dramatic when painting his standing body as reflected from a mirror high up on the wall. He also looks at 20th C. art, so he enjoys a sense of expressive freedom.
His earliest efforts, though a bit awkward, still could be quite expressive. A dual portrait, standing in profile behind his father, reveals what must have been a difficult transition to independent adulthood. Like humorous cartoons, the expressive human figure is the focus of each and every painting. The eye is not encouraged to linger and enjoy colors or forms, nor is the mind encouraged to linger over puzzling ideas, other than his biography. Each painting just tells us “I am what I am”, with no hint of where he would like to go or what's happened to him, and no sense of transcendence into a larger scheme of things.
And yet – over the past 50 years, his painting has consistently gotten better, with progressively greater control over space, more energy in the design, and a greater sense of mystery. His latest self portrait doesn’t even seem to be about him so much any more. He now is making the best paintings of his life.
This is a man who knows how to age well.