Artist Q&A: Steven Nederveen

1. How has your exploration of the image plane evolved throughout your practice? What has motivated the departure from your use of resin and acrylic sheets to expose the impasto on your panel surface?

Before I get to the question, I’d like to set the stage first.

This show is about water and it's capacity to transform both itself as well as ourselves. “Light Play” captures the mesmerizing qualities of water and light.  Fluid and moving, glistening and refracting, water nourishes our spirit. It represents all the characteristics we love; to be pure, deep, transparent, intuitive, nurturing, reflective and receptive. Water embodies the idea of transformation, it shapes and can be shaped, and can express both the light and the heavy of personal journeys.

I wanted this emotional quality to be at the forefront and chose the thick application of paint for it’s unfiltered directness. Resin and acrylic sheets are great for playing with light, depth and colour, and would have been a great choice to explore the qualities of water. However, in this show I embraced the textural and visceral qualities of paint because I think they have greater emotional traction. By exposing every brushstroke and decision to the viewer, the hand of the artist is more apparent. A tension is built between the soothing water scene and the rough, scraped, splattered application of paint. The disconnect between human expression and beauty of nature creates an interesting dialogue.

2. What experimental methods or techniques might we see in this new body of work?  How has your approach to the painting and photography elements of your mixed media practice evolved over time.

There is less and less photography coming through on my pieces in this show. In some cases, there is no photo at all. I use the photo to depict “reality” while the paint serves to enhance or reveal some kind of magic within the landscape. That is still happening but now I’m using paint to also be in opposition to the realism of the photo. The result is a more personalized landscape, one that captures more of the human relationship and struggle.

3.You often flatten illusory depths with surface intervention and disrupt photographic realism with textural paint application and hyper-saturation, what is the conceptual motive behind these compositional choices.

These are all ways to interrupt the viewer from seeing the landscape from a passive stance. We all take landscapes around us for granted and I don’t want to represent more of that so I focus on details and find the magic within it. Even with my panoramic scenes, it is full of painted un-natural details that give the image an overall sense of something that transcends nature. They either invite the sublime or reveal some kind of struggle. Ideally, both.

4. To what extent are your compositions situated at the photographic site? Do the finished pieces relate to real places or become imagined realms and how does this process occur?

I’m generally focused on the emotional response and idea in the work, but having said that, Vancouver and the Gulf Islands are always “alive” in my work. It’s the place where many of my favourite childhood sailing memories come from. It’s also where I experienced the greatest connection to nature. All this feeds directly into my artistic practice.

5. What is the significance of the title Light Play? How does this body of work relate to the physical energy and natural agent of light, its symbolic meaning as well as its place in optics, painting and photography?

I play with light as “spirit” or as a sublime element that shines through the material world in strange and unnatural ways. It’s intended to help the viewer imagine their own spirit in the scene, to imagine that they are part of the wave, as part of something in movement, expansive and full of light.  In “The Merging of Water and Sky”, the refraction of light through the water droplets creates a kind of glowing stardust - imagine that’s you -  that blurs the boundary between water and sky, combining the vastness of both. 

6. How has your subject matter and approach to subject matter changed over the course of your career? What about the natural environment continues to inspire you and what drew you to this specific site? 

I’ve tried a lot of different subjects in my career and I’m always dancing around this fairly abstract idea of the sublime within nature. I’ve shifted my focus slightly from trying to depict it’s existence, or an experience of it, to the struggle of finding it. In the past, I used my experiences from meditation and time spent in nature to inform my visual exploration of the subject, but my meditation practice and nature excursions have long since faded away and my efforts to rekindle the practice have been frustrating at best. The struggle has become the new subject, and in painting water I’ve discovered more flexibility to express the human element. 

Established in 1965, Bau-Xi Gallery represents both Canadian and International artists, exhibiting Modern and Contemporary painting, photography, and sculpture in three art galleries in Toronto and Vancouver.

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