Artist Spotlight focuses on interesting artists, upcoming exhibitions, and articles about art and those who love it or create it.

Discover new ways to stretch your imagination, be introduced to new artists, their exhibits, and books to read about them. Expect to excite your mind. Comments are very welcome! -- Rosemary Carstens

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Clear View . . . the world of contemporary realist Steve Smulka

Nowhere in the art world is the ability to capture light more essential than for those whose paintings portray glass. STEVE SMULKA is the maestro of that subject matter, and it features prominently in his work. Contemporary realism is his niche and his portrayal of such complex groupings of vintage mason jars, hurricane lamps, bottles, and miscellaneous glass vessels, often framed against a window that looks onto an equally detailed view, are awe inspiring. So masterfully does Smulka transform paint into prism and translucence into reflective refraction that the viewer feels a sense of their physical presence that exceeds simple realism.

A part of Smulka’s success comes from his ability to compose and manipulate space on each canvas and his keen eye for the extreme multitude of fine detail when dealing with glass objects. Can you imagine? It’s not just a matter of looking for shadows and highlights, because each object replicates its reflective and refractive qualities again and again, echoing itself in its neighbors, in its backdrop and foreground. There is stunning sophistication at work here—this is a man who knows how to wield the tools of his craft expertly.

Born and raised in Detroit, at the age of 18 Smulka attended the School of Visual Arts in New York on a full scholarship. There he studied under renowned photo-realist Chuck Close, who inspired Smulka to pursue contemporary realism too. During his college years, he also worked as an assistant to Pop artist Bob Stanley doing everything from cleaning his brushes to helping him with paintings. Stanley introduced him to many of the top dogs of the 1960s and early 1970s New York art scene, including Roy Lichtenstein, Mel Ramos, Walter DeMaria, Richard Artshweiger, and Bob Ryma. Says Smulka about those years, “It was very exciting for a kid to meet [Stanley’s] friends, who were all pretty famous by then.”

After graduating from the SVA, Smulka earned his MFA from the University of Massachusetts and then returned to New York: “At the time, it seemed like the only place to live for an artist. I found a loft on the Bowery and did just enough carpentry work to survive and pay the rent and buy art supplies. I spent the rest of my time painting.”

For awhile Smulka experimented with different styles: “By the time I was out of graduate school, I was doing minimalist painting, very painterly, neo-abstract, expressionist . . . . As I matured and my work became more personal, I developed a style that could be described as large, abstract landscapes. The more I was excited by the work, the larger the paintings got, ultimately reaching 30 feet long. Finally, I was ready for a show.” His first show was at the SoHo Center for the Arts, where Larry Aldrich of the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CT, became the artist’s first collector.

Today Steve Smulka exhibits regularly and his list of collectors is long, prestigious, and international. His work is held not only in private collections but also by museums and some of the nation’s largest corporations, including Mobil, Oppenheimer & Co., and the Continental Group. Smulka is a recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.

Displayed here are three fine examples of Steve Smulka’s work: Revelation, Labyrinth, and Safe Harbor. He has been showing at Gallery Henoch in New York since 1993. To see more of this exceptional artist’s work, visit the gallery online at http://www.galleryhenoch.com/

-- Rosemary Carstens


Melanie Mulhall said...

I am stunned by Steve's ability. I've watched my husband as he worked to capture glass on canvas and know how difficult it is to do at all--let alone as beautifully as Mr. Smulka does. I bow to him.

Melanie Mulhall

Anonymous said...

Rembrandt would be amazed - he was a master of light. These are remarkable. Karen Lin

Gail Storey said...

What lovely work, thanks for bringing it to our attention! Glass and light, beautiful.

Jerrie Hurd said...

I can't believe these aren't photos. Even taking photos of glass is amazingly difficult!