Observations on the art of Dan Steeves
April 20, 2013
I have just read Tom Smart’s essay for The Memory of Pain, Dan Steeves’ new series of etchings that opened at The Confederation Centre For The Arts early this year. Steeves’ work is remarkable and so is Smart’s essay.
First, a few words about the writing, and then the art. Tom Smart is one of my favourite writers about art. His writing is both passionate and intelligent. In this essay, before actually addressing Dan Steeves’ work, Smart presents one of the most compelling arguments, that I have read, for the importance of art in our lives. He says that good art allows us to transcend everyday experience, and that it provides a framework of order and coherence in a world that so often presents us with upheaval and disruption.
As I read the introductory section I came to a line that stopped me short, actually causing a quick involuntary intake of breath. I was struck by the intelligence and the beauty in these words.
“Coherence and shape, patterns and eloquence, perspective and distance, these characteristics drive the creative individual to elevate experience to a level of understanding, and to give the rude abrasiveness of life’s distresses a patina of poetry and truth.” (Tom Smart, from The Memory of Pain, p. 9)
Smart, when he begins to discuss the work of Dan Steeves, says that these elements are very apparent in the work. He says this new series brings forward themes that have driven Steeves’ work for years. With this new body of work the artist confronts two tragedies, one public and historical and one private and more current. In tackling very difficult and painful subject matter, the artist seeks to bring order to chaos, and to find within the pain a sense of grace. Steeves says that he believes Tom Smart is right in his analysis. Steeves refers to his work and to “the pain that is there”, but he adds “In my belief structure there is hope and there is grace.”
In conversation with Dan Steeves concerning the essay, he referred to a particular comment by Smart. “Steeves always takes the viewer past what is seen to what is hinted at, alluded to, whispered about or ignored” (Tom Smart, The Memory of Pain, page 16). Dan said, “These nuances are very much in my mind when I make work, and it is wonderful to have someone get those nuances.” I agree. While Dan’s images have a strong immediate visual impact when first encountered, a closer reading of the work has much to offer.
I have often encountered in great art that which is absent, those elements which are unseen, but suggested by their very absence. It is that which lies beneath the surface of our lives that is important, and which is often addressed by our best artists. We are fortunate, in our region, to have so many artists among us that delve beneath the surface of life with their art. Dan Steeves is one of these artists.
I once told Dan Steeves that he was a bit of a hard sell. I told him that, when including his work within a group exhibition at my gallery, I have observed many people as they rush past his work in their quest for painting, seeking colour. Yet, I added, when I have someone willing to slow down and to take time with his work, when I have a client spend time with me as we explore the three drawers of Steeves’ etchings in our cabinet at the gallery, I see people become enthralled with the work and fascinated by the ideas and the processes that underlie it. Of course, when I have Dan Steeves in the room to talk about his work, and to tell us the stories behind each work, I have fervent converts to the art of Dan Steeves.
I find, in Dan’s work a sense of mystery and often a sense of darkness, but I also find the state of grace to which both the artist and the essayist refer. I am excited and honored that the gallery will be hosting a selection of etchings from this series during the month of May.
The artist will be in attendance for the opening reception on May 3, and will return to the gallery on May 14 to speak about his work. I urge people to attend both. First, join us as we open the exhibition on the 3rd, an opportunity to view the works. Then return to hear Dan speak about the process of creating the etchings and to talk about the new series. You will not be disappointed. You will find Dan Steeves to be an earnest and engaging speaker, and extremely receptive to those who wish to learn more about his work.