In issue #11 of Supplementaire, feature writer Jade Fitton got to interview the New York-based artist Steven Bindernagel, who exhibited his work earlier this year. We are happy to share images from the exhibition as well as pieces of his work. Issue #11 is still available for purchase in print and digital formats:
Steven Bindernagel Interview by Jade Fitton for Supplementaire #11
You have a very intense work ethic working up to 15 hours a day 6 days a week – doesn’t sound like there’s all that much down time. How do you remain inspired?
I do spend a lot of time in my studio, however not all of that time is spent painting or drawing. When I arrive at the studio, I often start off the morning by reading or spending time online. I also play around with paint in the studio without much intent on creating anything specific. By the afternoon I am usually more focused and can spend several hours in a row focused on one painting. This all varies of course, depending on what I have on the calendar. Now that my solo show has just passed at CRG, I have a little more down time to read, write and explore.
You’ve been quoted as saying “It was at CCAD that I realized I love making art and I was willing to do everything possible to do it for the rest of my life,” what have you had to do so far?
CCAD (Columbus College of Art and Design) is where I attended undergraduate school in Ohio. That quote was taken from an interview I did with the school’s alumni magazine. I was trying impress upon students who might be reading the interview that a career in the arts is a lot of work. It’s a daunting profession to take on in many ways, particularly as you start to get a bit older and worry more about money, financial security, family life etc. But as irresponsible and crazy as it is to be an artist, it’s also wildly rewarding.
For me, I just had to stick my neck out and try to make a run for it. When I moved to New York for grad school, I knew next to nobody in the art world. After school, I got a job in Chelsea at an art gallery so I could start networking. Long hours became the norm—working 9–5 and then heading to the studio until after midnight. Eventually it started to pay off though, and now the majority of my time is spent painting.
Do you feel like you’ve had to sacrifice anything?
Despite the common perception of artists living a bohemian, carefree lifestyle, most of the successful artists I know are extremely hard working and dedicated people. I think most artists, myself included, realize early on that they really don’t ever expect to make much money from their art. So you have to go into this career with that mindset. So yes, I have sacrificed a lot early on in my career—steady income, financial stability, benefits that one would get with a salary job. That being said, I wouldn’t change anything for the world. And lately things have been going well, so hopefully the gambit is paying off.
If for whatever reason, art had not been an option, what would you have done if you hadn’t followed your heart? And do you think you could have been happy?
I would have done something in a creative field. Design or architecture. Or possibly some sort of carpentry. My first love has always been painting, so I find it hard to imagine my life without painting in it. But I think we all have a way in life of finding things that make us happy, even if its not through our primary profession. Following you heart does not guarantee happiness in much the same way that not following your heart doesn’t ensure misery.
It has often been noted with your work that “soft and gentle must be juxtaposed with harsh and aggressive”, why do you feel it is important to have that juxtaposition?
I often will have several conceptual and technical juxtapositions in my paintings and drawings. Soft/hard, gentle/aggressive, intuition/logic, making a mess/imposing an order, gravity/weightlessness, fast/slow, flat/textured—I want all of these dichotomous elements to be playing with and against each other in my work because it creates a tension and unrest in the art. In the case of sensitivity vs. aggression, I want the elements in the work to feel like they are gently floating off into the atmosphere or slowly fading away. However, to the other extreme, I want areas of the painting to be active and explosive. It all relates to the circle of life in a way. You can’t have life without death.
If you could pick one from art, one from literature, one from music and one from film, who/what would your influences be?
This list would probably change every month if I had to answer it that often, but here are some influences that have been on my mind lately.
I am still recovering from the de Kooning retrospective at the MoMA in late 2011. I have always liked de Kooning, but that retrospective was epic.
I love Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. It’s a full of satire, humor, math, abstraction. One of my favorite books of all time.
I have been listening to a lot of Neil Young. I don’t know how it influences me directly… but his first couple albums are almost perfect. Smart, full of heart, beautifully executed but still rough around the edges.
I’m admittedly not much of a film buff – I don’t know if any film has drastically influenced me in a prominent way. The last movie I saw that truly blew me away though was The Departed.
You’ve said that you have to see being an artist as a lifestyle rather than a career and have, in the past, had to have a strong support network around you in order to support you, why do you think creative careers are, for the most part, the ones that are underpaid/undervalued?
I kind of touched on this before, but I don’t think you can go into the arts expecting to make a lot of money from it. Not that it can’t happen, because it can, but you have to be a painter or photographer or musician because you love it more than anything else. So once you decide that your art is the most important thing to you, then you have to go about figuring out a way to make it happen. Particularly here in the U.S., there is not a lot of funding for the arts. Grants are available, but they are hard to get and there is a lot of competition. So for most artists I know, it’s a grind. You work to pay the rent, you create when you can. You skip dinner with your friends or going to the movies because you have to get in the studio and make art. And instead of dropping $20 at the movies, you can buy a tube of paint instead.
As far as artists being underpaid or art being undervalued, I’m not really sure what to say. I think it comes down to an issue of practicality for the average person. Most people in the world don’t have money for capital A “Art”. But when we talk about that type of art, we are only talking about such a small portion of the art in the world. The treasured art that I own is not expensive. They are pieces that I have randomly found or traded with another artist for. I think we have to be careful never to equate monetary value with appreciation or sentimental value when we talk about art. They are not the same.
You paintings have a very natural element to them, from crystal formations to flowers and leaves – living in New York, where these influences are somewhat limited, have you been tempted by the lure of man-made formations?
It’s funny, before I moved to New York my paintings were actually quite structured and rigid. They were much more wedded to the grid with very few natural elements at all. Once I got to New York, the imagery in my paintings slowly took on more organic and natural characteristics over the years. It’s almost as if I were always wishing for surroundings different from my current situation—like, the grass is always greener. But now, with images so readily available on the Internet on sites like Tumblr, I can pull imagery from anywhere and everywhere. But the urban grid of NYC does influence me a lot. Much like Cleveland where I grew up, I love the industrial, beaten down areas of the city.
The ability to link the emotional content of a painting as well as the technical insights of creating is important to you – could you explain how you feel the two are linked?
For me, the act of creating is directly linked to the emotional or conceptual content of the painting. I have no interest in painting something that exists already – rather my process of painting and drawing is much more intuitive. I make a mark, sometimes wipe it away, sometimes I leave it. And then I make another mark in relation to that last stroke. So the works slowly accumulate piece by piece, layer by layer. Its not that I want the viewer to be able to see or focus on my process, rather I just couldn’t produce the paintings that I do without my particular process. So therefore, the two are inseparable.
What was the moment in your career you have been most proud of yourself? And did you feel this was the same moment as, say, your family?
Well, I just had my first solo show in New York, which has always been my top career goal up to this point in my life. So that was incredibly fulfilling and I was very excited and pleased with the exhibition. My family was all there for the opening and they have always be very supportive. Now it’s time to set some new goals and get back at it in the studio.
What can we hope to see from you next?
I have a solo show of small paintings this summer at a great gallery in Birmingham, Alabama called Beta Pictoris Gallery. I’ll have some works at art fairs this year with my NYC gallery, CRG Gallery, and hopefully a limited edition print coming in 2013 as well. I’m also hoping to start lining up some shows on the West Coast and in Europe, so you can keep track of my latest news at stevenbindernagel.com.