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Acid Black/ Eagle Red: William Steinman

This interview was done with my dear friend, and talented artist, William Steinman nearly a year ago, before he moved to California in 2010. William and I had been introduced by some mutual friends that went to Ohio University and were now living in Brooklyn. He and I got along great from the get go, we loved to talk about art and challenged each other’s opinions on the current institutional exhibitions. As I got to know William and his work I began to learn that his practice as an artist never turns on and off but builds.  He is consistently collecting imagery and inspiration for his latest work of art.  I hope you enjoy reading the interview, as I have enjoyed watching the expansion of Steinman’s artistic practice.

Artist William Steinman in his studio at Queens College, 2010. Photo by Kate Miss

November 9th, 2010

Anneliis Beadnell: It’s always best to start from the beginning. When did you first decide that you were into creating artwork?

William Steinman: Well I think it all started with skateboarding. With skateboarding I learned and really began to create a work ethic. I was practicing something that to most people was a waste of time, didn’t make me any money (in fact usually costs money) and was seen as a negative fringe culture in the early 1990s when I was riding. I feel my art practice is seen very much in the same way. I was always drawing too, even as a very little kid. Then skateboarding led into graffiti and graffiti led into painting and so on.

Anneliis Beadnell: Now being medaled with academia (BFA from Ohio University in painting; MFA from Queens College) how do you think they have helped you as an artist progress in your practice? Or come to your current conclusions about your work?

William Steinman: Art school helped me improve my art practice. I learned a lot about art history, art curation, art criticism and really learned how to spend 40 hours a week in my studio, whether it was making things, or sourcing materials or applying for this or that. It taught me that being an artist is a job just like any other independent contractor working today.  I was also introduced to a lot of great artists that I had never heard of which is always a big help.

Installation shot of "ACID BLACK/EAGLE RED," Steinman's exhibition at Queens College (Photo by Kate Miss)

Anneliis Beadnell: Your work, whether in graffiti, collage, sculpture or video has taken on such a scale of physicality that viewers and critics have equivocated your work to “trying to stay perfectly still inside a hurricane of motion”(quoted from Beautiful Decay). A force of nature, which culminated into your resent show,”Acid Black Eagle Red”.

Other than agreeing that your recent showed work trails on destruction, I feel there is a great link between demolition and sexuality, a especially masculine one in this case, like the hurricane broke open a construction site trailer full of Coca Cola, marijuana and dirty magazines. Would I be wrong in saying that?

William Steinman: Well I defiantly agree that there is a major physicality to the work, but I don’t think I focus on that aspect when I am making something, I think this came from my dad. He has no training in anything construction related so when he needed to fix something on the house for example, he would just jam some wood up in there and add a bunch of nails and caulk it over. It would look like hell but probably could survive an earthquake. I really think this is just how I subconsciously build stuff. Which luckily in turn in the contemporary art world is aesthetically pleasing if not a current trend.

Anneliis Beadnell : You’ve described AcidBlackEagleRed as expressing the “dark side of pop” and I believe you’ve taken the viewer there through the remnants of found objects; that are both appropriated from the dumpster or collected via your pocket. What lead you to appropriate the different popular imagery for your art?

William Steinman: Defiantly it was all from my college job when I was an undergrad at Ohio University. I worked for a state run recycling program that basically collected and salvaged any items other than the regular, bottles, cans, paper, etc. I would just be surrounded by amazing found items all for the taking and for free. My house was filled with this stuff. This was around the time I started to realize art was not only about paintings and bronze sculptures and shit like that, so I started pulling everything from the space around me and bringing it into the work.

Anneliis Beadnell:  At the opening of your MFA show you passed out a zine that went with the exhibition. You said to me that the zine was “integral” to the exhibition. The zine contains images of coco puffs, thug like white boys, and VHS collections with the last few pages on “commingle” and “belonging to the public”. Do you feel like your work belongs to a public?

William Steinman: Guess it’s all how you define “public”. I mean do you mean the normal New York art viewing public? Or the Midwestern mother who thinks a painting of ducks on a lake in the sunset is fine art? I will say sadly that I think people who would enjoy my 2d and 3d work more would be other artists or people with knowledge of art, like art for other artists’ sake. But I will say that my recent transition to film would broaden that audience because more people can relate to movies since they stare at computer and television screens all day. And that is a big reason why I switched to electronic medias, to reach more people.

Anneliis Beadnell:  Your process of creating an artwork often comes from the act of collecting. Do you feel like you have a hoarding mentality or more of an obsessive acquirer?

William Steinman: Yes defiantly more of an obsessive acquirer. I collected comic book neurotically as a young child. Then I noticed, as I got older I started to be a purest within all the downloading of digital medias. For example I always buy video games and music instead of downloading them. Or I cant get into the Kindle books because there is something special to holding that book in your hands and being able to stare at an artists rendition of a scene from the book on the cover. Like I said earlier I was collecting found objects a lot in college, and then went back to collecting comics after I graduated.  It is not only about things I can purchase though, I recently collected images of faded advertisements of women in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for almost two years. I have about 200 images and I am turning that collection into a zine. Currently I have been collecting vintage Science Fiction Novels.

"Starvin' in Harlem, the Scissor Tongue" 33in x 30in. 2009

Anneliis Beadnell:  In your recent practice you have been creating videos. Can you elaborate on how you got to this point in your artist practice? Also what further explorations are you taking with this medium? Do you feel this is an organic step for you to take in order to further “commingle”?

William Steinman: Well two women artists played a big role in my transition to film. I was in an experimental film class with Zoe Beloff and during the same semester Mika Rottenbug gave me a really good studio visit after a lecture she gave at Queens College. Both artists’ work I really respect. So they basically got me to just take the plunge and pick up a film camera and start making movies. But really I think I always wanted to make films though. I am an only child and didn’t really get along with other kids so growing up I was always building “sets” and “props” and playing out massive “wars” in my backyard where I would play all the roles of good and bad characters all on my own. That’s why I am comfortable doing everything from concept to acting to the visual feel on my own now.  Also I am drawn towards 16 mm film instead of digital because it is more forgiving of details, so my low budget props and sets seem aesthetically beautiful instead of B movie quality.

Anneliis Beadnell:  As a friend I am sincerely sad to see you leave New York city. How has it shaped your artwork? What do you look forward to that you are seeking in the L.A artist community?

William Steinman: Richard Prince will always be synonymous with New York to me. I saw his retrospective show at the Guggenheim, when everyone said they hated it and him, but I saw the show more times than I can count. There was something there about the appropriation and the collecting, (he collects vintage sci-fi books too) that I really understood. Being masculine and not caring, being honest and not saying sorry, taking from any source without needing to explain, all these things were a big influence on the type of work I look at and make.

As far as L.A. is concerned I really don’t know what I am looking for. I moved here to get some better weather and cheaper living/working space, and just to let a city shape they way you think and create. I have always been addicted to the near apocalyptic futuristic feel that L.A. has. It’s the closest to a Science Fiction setting that I know of.

****This last statement has came to fruition in his next film “Cosmic Sands” coming out soon. See below image.

Still from William Steinman's new film "Cosmic Sands"

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