Meet Steven Tritt, a mid-career artist who describes his work as “painterly, multi-mixed media, tactile, graphic, expressive.” Tritt says Expressionism has influenced him since his student days at Northern Illinois University. But in addition to artists like Munch, Pollock and the neo-Expressionists, Tritt is also strongly influenced by the geography and history of the American prairie in his native Ilinois.
I have lived in Illinois all my life. I find the flat and rolling landscape with the uninterrupted horizon interesting and it has worked its way into my art both literally and figuratively.Steven Tritt
Join us in Steve’s studio for a virtual visit and informal Q & A.
What have you been working on recently?
I’ve been working with animal imagery recently. It started with prehistoric bears, cats, horned and tusked mammals taken from cave paintings, and then the American Bison worked their way into my landscapes, specifically slaughtered ones from old photos and postcards. And that’s not to say I’m not working with other imagery or abstraction, but it’s occupying much of my attention.
Can you tell us about your process?
Most work begins with a photo. Through sketches and small drawings, the image becomes something new. This change grows even more when I intuitively render the work on new surfaces (like canvas, wood, or yupo).
At this point, any preconceived destination is abandoned, and I let the work dictate the direction it will go, often striking a balance between recognizable imagery and abstraction. It’s between these two polar elements that my work fluctuates and during this tug of war I paint, draw, pour, scratch, dribble, and collage many different materials (latex, oils, acrylics, pastels, pigment sticks, ink, graphite, and collage elements like sand, sawdust, nails, bottle caps, flag material, pages from magazines and newspaper).
Because I don’t always work on canvas or paper, I want the original material to show through whether it’s wood, both store-bought and reclaimed, Styrofoam, cardboard, black canvas, and to contrast that with painted areas of transparent washes and heavily painted areas. For me, the surface I work on is a star as well.
How has the current situation affected your life and your studio practice?
I work at a golf course. With “sheltering in,” we are not open, so I’ve only been working five-hour days which has freed up some extra studio time. Normally, because of my job, I see the sunrise nearly every day and I marvel at the sharp contrast of the dark land and the brightening sky, and I want to capture this visual energy in my work.
But line has always figured to be important in my work; I often think of brushstrokes as linework whether it’s a dab or a long winding line. I think that this interest in line stems from my affinity to Expressionism as well as my awareness of the horizon.
Do you have any rituals or routines that help you cope with the current situation and what are they?
For me, the act of painting helps me cope. I think it helps me cope even when the world hasn’t been turned upside down. Sometimes I think of painting as exorcism, a cleansing of all the garbage that collects in my being. With the current situation painting serves as an escape and at the same time provides an avenue for me to subconsciously explore it.
If I’m painting after lunch on a weekday, I can’t help but think I shouldn’t be here I should be at work. And the slaughtered bison landscapes of clumpy, overgrown turf shapes which originally made me think of American Imperialism, genocide, and the sheer waste and exhaustion of natural resources, now makes me think of victims of the virus.
What kind of things do you use to stay involved with the art world in this time of social distancing?
Chicago is my cultural center, so I do miss visiting. There are upcoming exhibits featuring El Greco, Malangatana and Kathe Kollwitz at the Art Institute, and I had planned to visit. I hope to get there in June or July because I can look at Kollwitz in my book, but it’s impossible to absorb Kollwitz without being there.
My art world is small; it exists mostly on social media and the Internet. This makes me feel as if my art world is virtual, not real. I continue to post work on Facebook and Instagram, and stay in touch with artist friends including Rebecca George and the folks at The Art House.
If you would like to learn more about Steven Tritt and his process, check out this recent video of the artist at work in his studio.
Note: COVID-19 has been upended nearly every facet of life, and the art world is no exception. In the weeks to come Lonely Ocean is planning a series of virtual studio visits to help connect artists and collectors in this time when traditional gallery shows and studio visits are not possible.