October 23rd through December 6th 2008
Margaret Thatcher Projects
511 West 25th Street, Suite 404
William Steiger’s new exhibition Transport at Margaret Thatcher Projects explores the detritus of iconic America. I had an opportunity to view the exhibition last week with the artist and was overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgia when viewing his beautifully rendered grain elevators, tramways and ferris wheels. His meticulous paintings reminded me of how many once vital American industries have since become obsolete. Although the paintings contain no specific time reference it is the structures themselves that conveyed to me Depression era America. With America’s leading car manufactures facing bankruptcy the paintings seemed especially poignant.
Steiger began his career as a classic landscape painter and quickly found that it was the man-made objects in his paintings that fascinated him the most. He started zooming in on the telephone pole or simple smoke stacks that filled his paintings, bringing them closer to the foreground with every new work. Eventually deciding that these inanimate objects were the most interesting elements in his work he eliminated the natural world altogether. “I finally gave myself permission to paint what I wanted to paint,” Steiger tells me as we sit together casually nibbling M & M’s.
But how do you classify a landscape painter whose paintings contain no landscape? That is the beauty of Steiger’s work – a horizon line is rarely drawn but often implied. He leaves empty spaces and forces your eyes to “fill in the dots”. A simple painting of a grain silo reveals itself to be largely a product of illusion. When I approach the painting I realize that many of the lines I’d imagine do not actually exist. From afar you recognize a roofed structure and that structure must be made up out of level plans but upon closer inspection the divisions that you perceive are areas of canvas purposely left blank. The spatial abstractions lend unpredictability to scenes that are unspecific but somehow familiar.
“Growing up I didn’t know that one could be an artist. The idea to me was something magical and unattainable,” Steiger says. Perhaps that is why he originally chose geology as a major. Steiger’s scientific precision is visible in the remarkably smooth surfaces of his paintings and the fact that all the work is done free hand, a process that the artist attributes to a combination of steady nerves and unnaturally steady hands. Masterfully done, devoid of human presence, hauntingly nostalgic and executed in soothing pastel tones – there is no denying that Steiger’s paintings are decidedly wonderful to look at. I decide then and there that I must have one! Margaret and I start talking pricing and I’m delighted to hear that the smallest works start at $1,500 –within my budget, even in this new Depression era.
Blue Machine , 30"x45", oil on line, 2008
Tanker Car, 20"x30", oil on linen, 2008