I am not a weepy person. I think the years have coated me a bit in a tough, cynical shell, but sometimes I come across a painting that breaks through my armor, reminds me of why I became an artist and makes me want to run to my easel. My ideas suddenly bigger than I am…….


The work of Steven Assael does that for me. And I am not exactly sure why. Normally I am pretty good at assessing a work. Many years of working with artists that I mentor and teaching in a workshop setting has honed my skills to be able to put into words why I like something, or why I do not. I think one of my strengths that has grown over the years is to be able to assess a work and find ways that it can be strengthened. Yet Assel’s images fail me a bit. They are haunting and yet realistic. Precise and manipulated, and yet very much alive. If you are not familiar with his work, he is worth looking up.

I was at a show many years ago. It was a regional show and there were some very good local works there. Pittsburgh tends to favor realistic, and sometimes over-painted subject matter. Barns and boats and portraits that are NICE. (the death of a painting if you ask me) But there was one painting that stood out from the rest.

The painting was crude and almost primitive. It had a figure jumping around the room with something on a fork. The title was called “Eating Ovary Pancakes.” I was truly repulsed by the painting once I realized what was supposed to be on the utensil. Really? I couldn’t understand how this image brought joy to the artist that created it. What possibly could be the story here?

However, I have to say that image has stuck with me all these years. Not the thousands of “nice” boat paintings or flower paintings that I have seen, just this crazy image…. I still don’t like it. It is not to my taste at all. So why does it stick?

So that brings up the issue – if a painting is completely different from anything you have ever seen before, does that make it good?

Well, it worked for Warhol.

Maybe it is as simple as the concept of creating something personal and beautiful is a different animal from an artist that wants to shock the viewer……. Oh, that tricky “intention of the artist”.…I always tell the artists that I mentor that they have to start with that- Intention. It rules all of the other decisions to follow. And we artists are decision-makers after all.

Maybe Assaels’ work is just beyond any critique. Maybe I need to study the images more. Maybe it just speaks to me in a personal way. Or maybe I just need to relax, soak it in and let my soul connect to it like a favorite song.

Have a favorite artist that speaks to you? I would love to hear about them! I need new work to stop and gawk at.

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