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Painter Steven Silverleaf

Interviewed by Fred Wasser
(February 5, 2008)



Steven Silverleaf paints in the small house in Carrboro, North Carolina where he also lives. He built a studio with lots of windows and a view of trees, birds, squirrels, and sometimes a family of deer.

The studio contains perhaps hundreds of canvases hung on the walls, leaning against the walls, and lying on tables. “I need examples of previous work in the background or around me,” he explains. “I like to see a constant history of where I’ve been and where I’m going, and what I’m thinking about.”

He works for two or three hours at a stretch, he says. “Painting tends to go on in the evening when the day, and the world, is quieted down.”

 

What do you call yourself? An artist? A painter?
I think I’ve been the most comfortable with calling myself a painter. Basically I like working with paint and pigments on a flat surface.


Riptide, 2001
Acrylic and collage on
paper, 26x46"
© Steven Silverleaf

We’re looking at this painting that you call Riptide. You have great titles for your paintings.
Thank you. The fish happened because I was one day figuring out what a fish would look like in paper. And all of a sudden I realized that I really enjoyed tearing these fish out of paper. I did a lot of fish collage for about two to three years.

Why fish?
At the time, I was taking care of my mother, who was terminally ill. She was facing death. So there was a lot of exploration of women looking into aquariums and looking into water and looking into space, which I think was very much about the fact that we’re born out of an aquarium, out of water. And that she was going back into this unknown.

When you look at Riptide, what do you see? There’s an expression on the fish’s face, I think.
I actually don’t see it. The fish to me is more of a shape. I think the elements that you might be thinking of—the mouth or eyes—are more just brush strokes.

It doesn’t look like a happy fish to me.
Well, you’re bringing that to the work. I don’t know if I was thinking about happy fish or sad fish. They’re very colorful fish. In my painting, my argument is that life—no matter how dark and miserable— life is basically pretty good. What I really enjoy about this collage is below [at the bottom part of the painting]—the black calligraphic figures. They have the feeling of modern dance to me. A lot of energy. And that really excites me.

What kind of paint did you use?
All of my collages are acrylic paint. I do work with different viscosities of paint, meaning how much water I put in the paint. I will get the acrylic to the point where it’s very thin and transparent.


Photo by Fred Wasser
Steven Silverleaf in his studio

When you first sit down at a blank canvas, do you have an image in your mind about what the painting might look like?
Yes. I have images. I have themes. I can give you an example. I have one theme that I’ve been working on for the last three or four years called, Crash Landing. We have deer running around outside and they’re very frail. They’re very fast creatures but they have spindly legs. The young deer are incredibly frail-looking.

Is that because they’re not getting enough food to eat around here?
(Laughs) Not at all! It’s just the way deer look. They are light creatures because they jump and run. When I say frail I mean in relation to the world that’s happening around them. There’s no way that they’re going to compete with houses, cars, highways, modern life. Modern life is not too friendly to us either. The deer have become a kind of metaphor for us, and the fact that deer get killed brings the title, Crash Landing.

What do the deer look like in your drawings?
I’ll actually draw like a cave-person might draw deer. Very schematic-type deer. I would say a little bit primitive. I’ve experimented with probably a couple of hundred deer in these paintings and drawings. Lately the deer seem to be falling down or crashing or coming to some destructive end.

 

To view more images of Steven Silverleaf’s work:
www.StevenSilverleaf.com

 

 

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