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.