Art in Quarantine — Steven Day

UMBIGO invited several artists to reflect on the era we are living in and to think about their artistic production in quarantine times.

Project by the artist Steven Day.

Steven Day, New Paintings, May 25 2020 NYC

Untitled 01-04, black and yellow (from left-right), ea. 2020. Acrylic, pigment, matte medium on canvas, 30×19 in (48×76 cm)

Greek Theatre, (X), 2020. Acrylic, pigment, matte medium on canvas, 30×21 in (53×76 cm)

This current crisis and living in a pandemic, a collective cultural shift of how we work and live. As artists, we often think about what, and how we make actually make art. Now the question is also, why do we continue to make art? Also, what does art mean as everything is shifting? Who is the audience, since galleries and art fairs seem at present to be unsustainable? How will art be experienced during and after? Some of these questions were being asked in the early 1990’s, a time of radical change and social upheaval, when I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute (MFA 1994).

Back then, appropriation, and image-based art reminded me of artwork from the previous decade of excess. I especially wanted to avoid figurative art. That was then, and now its full circle back to ground zero, abstraction. Materials and surface, the physicality of the stuff or ‘thing’. Paint as a medium.

Although my early work, The Wax Paintings (1), monochrome or bi-color painted wooden panels cast in a semi-transparent wax, were associated with post-minimalism, comparisons were made to the early light artists from the 1960’s, although on a much more intimate scale.(2) Artists, Robert Irwin and James Turrell.

In 2020, my new paintings share a starker light sensibility, as well as a broader genre of abstraction to reference from a slightly earlier period. Artists I have always been coming back to for years, in museums, that I’ve increasingly been thinking about. The classics, artwork that is both conceptual, process oriented and has ‘spirit’. Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, early Brice Marden, and the artists emerging from the 1970’s like Blinky Palermo, and Mary Heilmann. Also, further back in time, into the early 20th century, when a new abstraction emerged from Kasimir Malevich, and Soviet Constructivist period. Having recently met Martin Rev from Suicide, and worked with Andreas Reihse (Kreidler) who offered me an exhibition at Spruth Magers-Image Movement Berlin, a few years ago, I’ve been listening to both old and new music, especially the early punk and post punk music during my formative teen years, in America and in England, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Just like back then, when a new social awareness and energy from the street emerged, punk and new wave cut out ten-minute-long guitar solo. With urgency, gone was the excess, and the frivolity of a burnt-out era. In 2020, it’s a return to paint as an object, a non-illusionistic thing, monochromatic, dull and flat, squares and crosses. To start, I have composed a series of spatial relationships that responds to the initial body sized canvas support. The monochromatic surfaces are built up with pigment and matte mediums to make an non reflective environment that both absorbs color (black), and emits color (yellow).


(1) The Wax Paintings, (Untitled) 1994-99.

(2) Translucent, Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco, CA. The Wax Paintings, Annie Gawlak, Washington D,C, 1995. The Wax Paintings, Haines Gallery, San Francisco, 1997. Inauguration, Haines Galley, New York 1996, Haines Gallery.

More recent exhibitions include The Wax Paintings, De-PICT, an Inaugural Painting Show, Gallery NOSCO, London, Opening June 30, 2014. The Wax Paintings Gallery NOSCO SP-Arte, Sao Paulo (April 03-06). The Wax Paintings, Gallery NOSCO, Art 14, London (Feb 28-Mar 2).

Reviews: Hyperallergic, When a Survey Show of Contemporary German Painting… Isn’t One, by Viktor Witkowski. November 11, 2019. San Francisco Chronicle. Day and Night at Haines, by Kenneth Baker. July 31, 1997. San Francisco. Gallery Watch A new round of Introductions, by David Bonetti. July 15, 1994.

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