Steven Riddle

Baltimore, MD | by January 24, 2012

Steven Rid­dle is a Bal­ti­more artist and proud of it.  Included on the cov­eted list of Nudashank’s artists, Steven not only embraces the Bal­ti­more scene but thrives in it.

I first met Steven through a mutual friend at a party almost a year ago.  I was imme­di­ately intrigued by his wit and over­all dis­po­si­tion. Through the omnipres­ence of Face­book in mod­ern day net­work­ing, Steven and I became friends.  When I finally clicked the link to his web­site, I was pleas­antly impressed.  Ini­tially taken by the color, Steven’s col­lages peaked my curios­ity and I had to know more.  Osten­si­bly his works read some­what like hand made, neon-​​colored eye spy puz­zles, but with fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion they stand up to the inter­est of the viewer reveal­ing more with a longer look.

TSV video edi­tor, Emily Biondo, and I made the trek up to Bal­ti­more on a Sun­day after­noon.  Luck­ily, we hit no traf­fic between the Dis­trict and Steven’s stu­dio and sur­pris­ingly arrived right on time.  Steven met us out front and jovially escorted us up the stairs to his stu­dio toward the back of the build­ing.  Steven’s work­space, as one might expect, is full of color.  Paint and cut outs cover the walls, a box full of paper and a vari­ety of in-​​process pieces sur­round his work­table.  The space is clearly active and well used—Steven, admit­tedly, spends more time in his stu­dio that in his apartment.

Steven makes col­lages, a term he inten­tion­ally decided to embrace when refer­ring to his work.  Though, his paint­ing back­ground is appar­ent in his color con­struc­tion and also in his com­po­si­tions.  The pieces range from small still lives, to large abstrac­tions, and soon to be full room instal­la­tions.  His work com­fort­ably con­tex­tu­al­izes itself in the con­tem­po­rary paint­ing dia­logue.  He exclu­sively uses hand painted paper, orig­i­nal tex­tures, etc.— never using found images or pat­terns.  Through his mate­r­ial manip­u­la­tion of cut­ting and past­ing, he also acti­vates a dia­logue about mate­r­ial and process based work.

While we were there, Steven gave us a demo of how his process hap­pens.  His pieces start as indi­vid­ual parts and are assem­bled together to cre­ate lay­ered scenes.  These scenes exist in between the space of his real­ity and his imag­i­na­tion.  Pulling source mate­r­ial from past expe­ri­ences, to Net­flix movies he streams in his stu­dio, the work exudes a some­what auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal feel.  For exam­ple, Steven said that the scis­sor cut outs some­times acts as a per­sonal sig­ni­fier.  Using scis­sors his sis­ter bough him from Christ­mas, Steven starts a piece by cut­ting.  Pulling from a stock­pile of hand painted paper, old col­lages, and left overs, he begins lay­ing out the composition—and it grows from there.  He cuts, adds, rearranges and repeats.  He said he could sit for hours with­out notic­ing how much time has gone by.  A some­what med­i­ta­tive process leads to a per­fectly assem­bled piece.  Although some­times, this per­fec­tion flips on itself and Steven decides the work is no good.  In this sce­nario, he cuts it up and recy­cles the parts for future use.

It seems appar­ent that Steven’s process is pri­mar­ily addi­tive, so I asked if there is a sub­trac­tive ele­ment in his process.  I was sur­prised to learn that his process has a strong sub­trac­tive com­po­nent.  He often edits out whole sec­tions or qui­etly adds a sub­trac­tive mark with his Martha Stew­art brand hole punch.   As Steven was explain­ing this part of his process, I real­ized that he inter­acts with his 2-​​dimensional work in a very 3-​​dimensional way.  Pick­ing pieces up, mov­ing them around, lay­er­ing on the front and the back, his rela­tion­ship with the piece is not just head on.  It is all-​​inclusive– each sec­tion, mark and moment com­pletely under his con­trol.  Every­thing is inten­tional and thought about, spa­tially and compositionally.

As the visit con­tin­ued, we started to dis­cuss the big­ger more abstract piece hang­ing on the wall.  He explained to us why he uses neon colors—which is fas­ci­nat­ing (see video) and how each indi­vid­ual aspect of the piece has sig­nif­i­cance.  Although, he specif­i­cally notes that he is not artic­u­lat­ing a nar­ra­tive.  Rather, the work is a phys­i­cal amal­ga­ma­tion of stim­uli from his daily life and imag­i­na­tion pro­vid­ing a visual and phys­i­cal plat­form for the viewer to expe­ri­ence.  He does not expect the viewer to dis­sect the mean­ings of each mark or object, but he intends for the viewer to deci­pher their own mean­ing from the work.

More than two hours after we arrived, we packed up the video gear and headed back toward DC.  What we learned while there was cap­ti­vat­ing, enter­tain­ing, and well artic­u­lated.   Steven not only brings an innate tal­ent to his process and work but also piles on lit­eral and con­cep­tual lay­ers.  Steven really is an artist’s artist.

Check out his work at www.steven-riddle.com and nudashank.com


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