By on May 17, 2016

Steven Glass confronts his ‘Big Year of Weird’ in a solo show at The Center.

Steven Glass’ ‘Man in the Arena’ (left) references Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech ‘Citizenship in a Republic.’ Right: In the piece ‘Public Speaking,’ an abstract head or stop sign vibrates in space. (Photo: steven glass)

Steven Glass’ ‘Man in the Arena’ (left) references Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech ‘Citizenship in a Republic.’ Right: In the piece ‘Public Speaking,’ an abstract head or stop sign vibrates in space. (Photo: steven glass)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – A new art exhibit at the Center Theater Gallery explores the question of how we define ourselves in times of dramatic personal change.

“The Big Year of Weird” features 20 paintings by Victor, Idaho artist Steven Glass.

“The universe didn’t like the groove I was wearing on my record,” Glass writes in his artist statement for the show. “So it skipped it with the force of an earthquake and razed my existence back down to dirt, scorching the earth and everything I knew in the process.”

At the same time Glass was undergoing significant changes in his personal life, a friend handed him a simple panel of melamine board. Knowing the artist’s penchant for painting on glass, the friend thought Glass might like the similarly smooth, unfettered surface of melamine.

The metaphorical blank slate proved to be his “talisman.”

“The melamine board was smooth like glass, but I didn’t have to put as much paint on it,” Glass said.

The artist uses graffiti-style media such as spray paint and paint sticks. Working on melamine, vinyl, and wood board, he has created a series of compelling motifs in the new work. A featureless face reappears in many paintings, with a paint streak for eyes, nose, or mouth—or many times, all three.

Other motifs include a chain link fence, eyeglasses, and dots.

The artist’s concise, candy-colored palette (pink, robin’s egg blue, charcoal, gold) serves a few purposes. The smeared, bright colors keep the images from being macabre, and they also accentuate the blankness of the surrounding smooth white surface.

A painting of a series of streaked, abstract faces entitled “Man in the Arena,” references Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Though Glass prefers not to share specifics of the dramatic shifts in his Big Year of Weird, he is confident that viewers can relate to the experience of how outside forces can impact our lives.

“After the universe tires of being polite, of gently tapping you on the shoulder and quietly suggesting you alter your course of direction, it finally relents and slaps you with a thunderclap,” he says in his artist’s statement.

With an MFA in Creative Writing, Glass often includes text in his work, but there are no words found in these new paintings.

The Center’s Art in Public Spaces coordinator, Carrie Richer, appreciates the mystery that Glass evokes in his show. She says he created a “cliff-hanger” within his artist statement. “I think it adds another dimension to his exhibition, creating a bit of a through-line as well as providing a type of character sketch to the many featured faces that make up the exhibition.”

On Thursday, Glass will give a lunchtime Artist Talk from noon to 1 p.m. in the Theater Gallery. With the Art in Public Spaces program, Richer says The Center hopes to deepen the public’s experience of art. “We want to facilitate good conversation and include the artist’s creative process and perspective.”

Like many artists, Glass becomes absorbed in exploring his materials when creating a body of work. “I got interested in painting on a white surface,” he said. “I had never been attracted to it, but then suddenly I was.”

Glass says he applies “a lot of paint” to a surface and then works at taking it off. “I’ll spray Windex on it while it’s fresh and then move it around to get a distorted affect,” he said. “Whenever I have a body of work, I don’t know what I’m doing until it’s done and I have time to process it.”

During his year of weird, Glass got a new job in Jackson and began commuting from Victor. This meant contending with construction on Teton Pass and long, stop-and-go lines of traffic. “I started liking the construction,” he said. “I found myself in the moment.”

He would pull out his camera and take photos of the construction, particularly the individuals positioned to hold the stop sign for cars.

“It was like a metaphor,” Glass said. “I was forced to deal with it, to watch it. As if the person with the stop sign was saying, ‘be patient everything is under construction.’”

The construction worker found a way into Glass’s work in the form of an abstract face on a sign. The face on the sign could be seen as a skull, or perhaps a clay sculpture head still in progress. A multicolored dot background creates a 3-D effect, so the image appears to be in transition.

Now that the Big Year of Weird has passed, Glass has happy new beginnings to celebrate. He and his wife are expecting a baby—right around the time of Glass’s art opening. “When things happen, they can define you or destroy you,” Glass said.

It’s no mystery that Glass responded to change by creating hopeful new lines of definition. PJH

The Big Year of Weird opening reception 5:30 to 7 p.m., Friday at the Center Theater Gallery. Free.

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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