Monday, April 16, 2007

Charles Steffen

Charles Steffen
Charles Steffen at Andrew Edlin - Never heard of this artist, but really loved his work... all of it drawings on paper.

The piece pictured above includes text reading - "giant drawing, sunflower nude standing in front of a red chair, holding a sunflower, front and back...".

All of the pieces are full of text, thoughts and descriptions.

Steffen had just started art school in 1949... but soon after began to hear voices, had a breakdown, and was institutionalized until 1963. When he was better he moved back in with his large Chicago family (he was the oldest of eight children), making two or three drawings a day for the next thirty+ years, which were periodically thrown away by the family as they piled up.... only drawings from 1989-1994 survive, saved by a nephew. Steffen died of throat cancer in 1995.

This one is a standing nude in blue and white, with pink highlights... she's kind of goofy-sweet looking.... with text which partially reads - "inspired by alisha the girl next door, thirty one years old, she does not know about this, i don't dare tell her, deals in real estate for a living...".

Most of the drawings are of nudes and family members, almost all the figures female, many drawn from life. They are grotesque, they look boneless, with some so heavily contoured it's like you can see their musculature, but they don't feel creepy or misogynistic. Lots of flowers and smiles and loving vibes...

There is one portrait of a woman sitting in a chair, wearing a sweater over a turtleneck, she actually looks kind of hideous.... it reads - "portrait of my sister sitting in her bedroom rocking chair, a good drawing, it looks just like her... god bless her soul, she is a good sister, it took two hours to complete".

I like this little moonlit(?) alien landscape, two figures meeting at a flower, drawn on eight pieces of scotch-taped notebook paper.

Interesting to think of Steffen making these almost completely unknown works for thirty-plus years, with fellow Chicago artist Henry Darger working on some of his secret stuff at the same time. How many unknown others?

Darger in hospital, knowing he wouldn't ever return home, instructed his landlord to throw everything away (didn't he?)... but the landlord was an artist and once he saw Darger's fantasy art he had to save it. I kind of wanted to bring up Darger with Lisa Ruyter in this thread, ask what she about that...

The Charles Steffen show is open until May 5th.


Maryann Devine said...

I believe Darger's landlord was painter Nathan Olivieri.

Barnaby said...

I love this post Martin.. thanks!

martin said...

hi maryann - wrong nathan. i'm pretty sure the landlord was nathan lerner, wife kiyoko.... but thanks.

barnaby - you should place an order! two dollars for any piece of signed social sculpture, edition is unlimited.

ACT NOW! operators are standing by.

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