Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Joe Steiner at ARC


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.