In-Sync with… Steve Sherrell (interview)


This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with artist Steve Sherrell. Do not miss his personal recommendations at the end of the interview.

Besides being one of my first college professors, Steve Sherrell has always been an inspiring figure for my own art career. Steve is candid, prolific, curious and experimental. His work is always in flux while expanding the boundaries of his innovative mind. Steve is one of the first artists I saw experimenting with digital art in a time when digital imaging was raw and not considered necessarily an art form. From densely layered digitally manipulated images to lusciously textured abstract and sometimes figurative works, Steve never ceases to impress. Enjoy!


Sergio: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree you received? 

Steve: I attended Ball State University and then The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for both my B.F.A. and M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing.

Sergio: Do you feel art school prepared you for the art career you have now? 

Steve: Not very well, but times were different. I have spent most of my life learning the various aspects of the Art World.

Sergio: What is one thing you wish you had learned in art school? 

Steve: Self confidence and more technical aspects of painting.

Sergio: What is your website?



Sergio: What are you working on and what inspires you right now? 

Steve: I am constantly amazed by the unceasing possibilities of what can be done technically and what can be spoken about in an artistic way. Music and art inspire me.  I am always trying to hook into the flow of life and culture. Currently I am painting with oil on canvas in thin glazes working abstractly and directly with no preconceived notion. I am also making a series of computer artworks called ‘mashups’

Sergio: How does a typical day in your studio/creative space look like? 

Steve: I try to spend a good amount of each day in the studio. If I can’t, I try to be doing something that aims at art. Rebuilding my website or playing music or promotion are things I consider being part of my artistic life. I try very hard to do as many new pieces as I can so I work every day. I usually stay in my studio from 8:30 am until 9:00 pm or from about 3:00 pm until 9:00pm on the days I’m teaching.

Sergio: Describe your creative process (theory, conceptualization, production, evaluation, presentation).

Steve: I believe that each work of art is its own entity and that I am just the facilitator. I get an idea and then I try to discover what it is and what it wants to be. That is the nature of my involvement. I start something and then wait for it to ‘tell me’ what it is. I cannot force work. Theoretically, I am a tumbleweed. I roll over a lot of ground and pick up all sorts of contradictory ideas.  So the art comes from all sorts of places of which I have very little control. Such is my fate. I have been criticized for ‘being all over the place’ and ‘not having a signature style’ But I do have a certain thing that is me and those who know my work intimately, know when I’m there.

Sergio: What type of mental/practical activities do you do when facing a creative block?

Steve: I put up a canvas or board and wait for it to show itself. I do not freak out or consider my creativity gone. I do other stuff like make music, read, look at art (lots of it, for new ideas and inspiration), but I NEVER worry. I might throw some coins to see where things are heading.

Sergio: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it? 

Steve: An asset. I use Facebook and Tumblr but mostly Facebook. I use it to keep people informed of where my work is at.

Sergio: What is your biggest challenge as a contemporary artist?

Steve: To not get stuck in some style that died 40 years ago.

Sergio: How much does the art market influences your art production/output? 

Steve: Fuck the art market. I hear flies in that marketplace.

Sergio: What’s next for you (exhibits, projects, travels, residencies, etc)? 

Steve: I take it day to day. I am showing all the time and I LOVE THAT!!!!



Sergio: What excites you and dislikes you about your local art scene? 

Steve: Chicago is in a weird place. It was much better 30 years ago. The whole scene was talking and exchanging ideas and you could go to all of the openings with no trouble. Miami is like that now. I miss it.

Sergio: What is missing, lacking or changing in contemporary art? 

Steve: It is getting more like a country than a town. When I was young there weren’t very many of us. All of the openings were on Friday night and you could make them all. There were about 3-400 serious artists in the Midwest. When my Father was young, they could all fit in a bar in New York. Now we are Balkanized. Galleries are spread all over the city. They open at all different times. It has separated the community into factions. It is good from the standpoint of showing but it does not help you to be seen by curators from the museums. During the time he was curator at the MCA, I never saw Dominic Molon once at an opening. The MCA only showed local artists a few times in that 10 year span and the Art Institute had a running policy for 25+ years to not consider local artists. It has gotten better but it is so devastated by the recent past that it will take a miracle to recreate a “Chicago Art Scene’. There will be art scenes but not any centralized one.

Sergio: What is your take on the current emphasis on contemporary art fairs? 

Steve: I don’t like them. They are good for certain dealers and blue chip artists but bad for art scenes and emerging artists. It centralizes the purchase of art and disorganizes the social scenes that artists need to grow and prosper.

Sergio: Do you believe gallery representation today is as important as it has been in the past? 

Steve: No. It is a matter of economics. I remember going to Phyllis Kind Gallery in 1973 to see a Roger Brown show. Roger was just hitting his stride, just becoming known.  It was a small space across the street from the old MCA where I worked. There were about 10 paintings in the show and they had all sold for about $10,000.00 each. That would have been $50,000.00 for Roger and the same for the Gallery. Take that same show today. The paintings by an contemporary emerging artist might sell for $7000-10,000. But if you consider the cost of things now versus then and the value of money, the $50,000 dollars that Roger made would be $258,000.00 today. Each painting now would have to sell for $50,000. So a selling artist in 1973 could live well on his or her art but a selling artist today struggles.

Sergio: How do you envision the art world would be different ten years from now?

Steve: There is a chance and I would say a good chance that we will wake up and realize that art is entwined in our fabric of life. It could cause a Renaissance in America if the wealthy would stop wanting to hoard their wealth and work artists into their set of needs. But I am afraid that 10 years from now it will look very much the same but be more fractured and poorer than it is today.

Sergio: If you could reinvent the way the art market functions, how would it look like?

Steve: Like it did 40 years ago. But I have been to many smaller cities and studied their art scenes: Lousville, St. Louis, Miami, Indianapolis and they kind of remind me of Chicago in the 70’s. Plus, there are vibrant local scenes like the one in Batavia, Illinois. Any way that helps artists to survive economically is where I would go.


Book… The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Art movie or documentary… Art 21, all of them.

Art museum… The Tate Britain.

Contemporary artist (other than yourself)… Ai Weiwei

Place to be inspired by… Tuscany- Florence and surrounds

One sentence advice for an art student… Work hard and figure out who is a fool and don’t listen to their advice.

Chicago cafe/restaurant… Dinner at Zaytune on Morgan in Bridgeport followed by 12 year old single malt at Marias.

Music… Hauschka


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