INTERVIEW: CURTIS STEELE | ITSLIQUID

INTERVIEW: CURTIS STEELE

Interviews | August 24, 2022 |

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

Interview: Curtis Steele
Luca Curci talks with Curtis Steele during VISIONS, third appointment of ANIMA MUNDI 2022, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.

“I have been working in photography and printmaking since 1969. In time, I combined both pursuits by basing my prints on my photographs. At the time I worked in linoleum cuts, wood cuts, serigraphy, etching, and lithography. This resulted in graduate studies in photographic printmaking processes. In photography, my vision leads me to capture images of the abandoned, the forgotten, signs and symbols, the seeming futility of human endeavors, and scenes of hope and understanding. As a youth, being able to see firsthand such works as Stuart Davis’ Lucky Strike, Edward Ruscha’s Actual Size, and Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, I became fascinated with the idea of the package as art object. My work focuses on the art of the modest cigarette paper package. Beginning in the early 1970s, I began to base my art on cigarette paper packages. Initially working in linoleum cuts and serigraphs, I enlarged the package shape and art. This theme lay dormant for many years. In 2011, I began a new series of digital drawings based on the cigarette paper package. The unique shape of each package, with its folds, flaps, and openings present the ground/composition that is drawn against a black background. The content comes from Egypt, France, Bulgaria, and other countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. These differing cultural norms, and iconographies continue to influence my work.”

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

Luca Curci – How did you get to photography?
Curtis Steele – When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, I had two friends who were studying photography at ArtCenter College of Design. One weekend the three of us went to the beach and I borrowed one of their cameras and took some photographs. The following weekend one of my friends showed me a photograph and asked me my opinion of it. I thought it was fantastic. To which my friend said, “You took it.” I was amazed. Now, these were the days of black-and-white film development and darkroom manipulations such as burning and dodging, and this photo exhibited a stunning array of values and contrast. I was hooked. That same year a friend’s parents were traveling to Asia, and I asked them to purchase my first modern camera, an Olympus 35EC. The next year, when I was eighteen, I traveled from London to Greece. Then from Greece to Italy, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. All the while documenting my travels with my 35EC. Upon my return to California, I learned how to develop film. My neighbor, a German who worked for Technicolor, learned of my interest in the medium and gave me a 1930s-era Leitz enlarger, and I set up a darkroom in my basement. I eagerly learned the art and science of photography.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

LC – Do you remember why you took your first professional photo?
CS –
My earliest professional work was as a photographer for an architectural firm. By this time, I was working in both 35mm and 4” x 5” shooting both black and white and color transparency formats. They used my photographs in their promotional materials. The opportunity to be paid to do something I love was a combination I could not resist.

LC – According to you, what makes a good photo? Which details do you focus on?
CS –
The making of a good photograph comes down to inspiration, previsualization, selective focus, and composition. I tend to follow certain paths for inspiration. I seek out abandoned buildings and other manmade objects. Such as in my two series, “Man v. Nature, “and “Messages from God and Man.” Often, it is overlooked that inspires my photography. Controlling the technical and mechanical aspects of the medium is critical to making a good photograph. Compositionally, I tend to take a formal approach. One of the advantages of photography is looking through the viewfinder or ground glass that provides the rectangle in which to compose the elements.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
CS –
Sometimes my work is narrative, such as in “Richard.” At other times my works are studied in line, shape, texture, color (value), and space, as in “Giza Stonework.” My approach to my work has been inspired by such artists as Ed Ruscha, Duane Michals, William Eggleston, and William Christenberry. Ed Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” and “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” in particular opened my eyes to different approaches to the medium.

LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
CS –
I find working in the darkroom or in Adobe Photoshop to be transcendental. I can lose awareness while involved in such pursuits. Being an artist is immensely satisfying. I find satisfaction in creating something from my mind’s eye for others to enjoy.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
CS –
Five years ago, I retired from a thirty-nine-year career in higher education, in which I gave instruction in photography, illustration, and graphic design. I have spent the years since then continuing to make my art, be it photography or digital illustration. There is little in life I find more satisfying than continuing to be an artist.

LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
CS –
The opportunity to exhibit my work in Anima Mundi Visions through ITSLIQUID is an honor. Their worldwide scope of artists speaks to the importance of art and its diverse views are inspirational. Visions imply seeing things as never before while acknowledging the past as the foundation for new, global artistic expressions.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the exhibition’s theme?
CS –
Anima mundi, or world soul, expresses a universal connection shared by all beings and species. For my own works, whether it be the pride of a humble individual who does all that he can to provide such a simple service as shining shoes or the mastery of ancient stone masons in the service of their gods, all things are connected.

LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
CS –
From my very first contact with ITSLIQUID through the hanging of this exhibition, the care shown to me by all with whom I have corresponded has been nothing but supportive and caring.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
CS –
I feel the ITSLIQUID Platform is visionary and global. It shows the strength and value of human endeavour.

LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
CS –
From my remote perspective, the organization and scope of this event are inspiring.

curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele
curtis_steele
Image courtesy of Custis Steele

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