An Interview with Kenneth Steinbach

Kenneth Steinbach is an artist who uses a variety of media and approaches, but works principally in sculpture.  He has work in numerous corporate, academic, and individual collections including Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis, and NYCAMS in New York.  Recent exhibits include The New Forests of Thoreau’s America at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, and Still There at the Gallery at Fox Tax in Minneapolis., and many more.

Memoria Animus Moes Island
 Who are you?
Kenneth Steinbach

Tell us about your artistic background can you can tell me about the beginning of your drawing career?
I make a lot of work that is not drawing- my background and training is principally in sculpture, but drawing is certainly a unifying element in my work.  The type of drawing I do tends to be more "sculptural" in that I frequently am physically etching or carving into the surface of a material when I make the drawings, or building up layers of drawings in to 3 dimensions.

Tell us about your work.
Most of my work wrestles with shifting histories and narratives that are associated with materials, places, and locations.  


Do you have a specific style in your work?  
I tend towards a minimalistic and conceptual focus in my work, and like to deal with different materials and processes.  I also like to make things, as opposed to having things made by others for me.

What was the biggest challenge when the process of making your work?
I like to make things, and have a tendency to overwork pieces.  The biggest challenge for me is to stop while the ideas are still fresh.

Tell us about your “Nature Speeks!”
The series of works uses branches from a plant called Eurasian Buckthorn, a plant that was introduced to the region about a century ago as decorative shrub and has since taken over large sections of the area where I live- radically changing the landscape.  The works are concerned with the uncontrollable qualities of nature, things that we think we can manage, or would like to manage, but nature has other plans.  The title of the series is taken from an essay titled "Walking" by Thoreau, in which he extolls the virtues of experiencing the wildness of nature.

Nature Speeks
Nature Speeks
Nature Speeks

What about your exhibition in Circa gallery?  
The exhibit at Circa used several media and had a more political quality than many other shows I have done.  The central images was that of a surveillance drone, and the other works revolved around that central image and idea.

What do you do besides sculpture and draw?
I am always exploring new ideas- potential media and materials.  I do some personal memoir writing, and am currently in the midst of a research project that is investigating the habits of mid-career artists that support and enhance their long term creative vitality.

Tell us your opinion about art.
I recently came across a great quote by David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads musical group. He said that we do not make music, music makes us- meaning that music to him was not the expression of personal feelings, but the discovery of things that he found moving and important, things that he discovered along with his audience.  I think that applies to art as well- it is a field of inquiry in which we discover truths of many kinds.

Many people are attracted to the world of art. Many of them feel like failure in presenting their work. What do you think?
I think it is sad if that had the result of keeping them from making and showing work.  The artists I know, and have interviewed for my research project tend to have mixed feelings about what they show at any given time.  I am not sure that those feelings ever go away- the more experienced artists just learn that those feelings come and go and really don't indicate what we often think they do.
Commercial success is a lousy motivation to make art.  Making art changes us in profound ways that cannot be defined or valued within an economic system.

Name artist that have had the biggest influence on you..
A few teachers have had profound impact on my career:  Stu Luckman, Michael Hall, and Dale Johnson, midwest guys all, each one taught me some great things.  I am probably most influenced by artists like Anselm Keifer, Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Kentridge, Richter.  Also cartography, maps, diagrams, readings about the science of memory, some semantic theory.  I am currently reading a book on the history of scientific philosophy that I am finding very interesting as well.

Under the Rose

What does a typical workday for you look like?
I teach 3 days a week, so I hit the studio about 3 days a week and also during the evenings. I tend to have a lot of experiments going on at any given time, so working in the studio often is a lot of fooling around with materials and ideas- a lot of research.  Eventually I will settle on an idea and then it really is about production and fabrication.

What advice do you have for people who want to ge into art?
Start making things.  Make a lot of things.  Arrange your life so you can make more things.  Read a lot.   Surround yourself with a group of people that are enthusiastic about making things and discussing them- even if you can only get together sometimes. Start hanging around wherever art is close to you- museums and galleries. Go to openings if you can.  Get a show wherever you can, in a coffeeshop, a small gallery, in your own living room where you invite people over for a night.  Get another show. Keep doing all those things.   One day you will wake up and realize that making art is an important part of who and what you are, that you have become a different person - a better one- because of that.

Thanks, Ken!

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