February 8, 2012 · Print This Article
This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at Rotofugi (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them. To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.
Caroline Picard: I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work?
Steve Seeley: The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind. I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.
CP: Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure?
SS: Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).
As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”
There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.
CP: At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?
SS: The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.
The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers. My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.
see more of Seeley’s work by going here.
Group show at the new location.
Rotofugi is located at 2780 N Lincoln Ave. Reception Friday, from 7-10pm.
Work by Caitlin Arnold, Michael Boles, Jessica Taylor Caponigro, Olivia Ciummo, Sarica Douglas, Deep Earth, Ron Ewert, Michael Hunter, Leo Kaplan, Katy Keefe, Nicole Kita, Michael Kloss, Ben Marcus, Joseph Mohan, Sara Mosk, DJ Rad Pitt, Dustin Ruegger, Margaret Taylor, Frank Van Duerm, Kate Walsh and Lauren Walsh.
The Hills Esthetic Center is located at 128 N. Campbell Ave., Unit G. Reception Saturday, from 8-11pm.
Work by Gina Beavers, Chris Bradley, Andrew Guenther, Anna Krachey, Elisa Lendvay, Tim Louis Graham, and Eliza Myrie.
The Exhibition Agency is located at 2351 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd fl. Reception Saturday, from 7-10pm.
Work by Richard Rezac and Gary Stephan.
devening projects + editions is located at 3039 W Carroll Ave. Reception Sunday, from 4-7pm.
Work by Susan Garguilo and Troy Hagenbart.
What It Is is located at 1155 S Lyman Ave, Oak Park. Reception Sunday, from 3-8pm.
…To Start Off The New Year!
Hey everyone! Hope ya’ll had a good hooliday! And now we stride fourth, from the ‘Ots to the Onezies, with many a show to look forward too. This weekend (especially Friday) is particularly ripe for new year pickings, so in celebration of all that, I give you…
THE FIRST 10 OF THE NEW YEAR!
(In not much of a particular order)
Happy ‘Effen 2010!
1. In Stereo at Rotofugi
I feel like I should hate this work for being hip and trite, but it just makes me think of Rosler’s 60-era “Bringing the War Home” too much for me to hate it. Make your own decision.
Reception Friday from 7-10pm. Rotofugi is located at 1953 W. Chicago Ave.
2. 3-for-1: Queen of Heaven, R&R (…&R), and Up Is Down at the Chicago Cultural Center
I am generally in favor of 3-for-1 shows, especially when there are actually three big shows in one place, something few other places do as well as the Cultural Center. On top of that the work looks worth seeing, to boot. Sheesley presents nearly photo-real paintings of puddles, Faier forces confrontation with death (or our refusal to confront it) with his images of mausoleums and their waiting rooms, and Slavick explores carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon through over painted photographs.
Reception Friday from 6-8pm. The Chicago Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St.