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Front Page » July 2, 2009 » Focus » Art focus
Published 1,998 days ago

Art focus


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Most parents believe their children are special. And they should.

Many think their kids are genius' or prodigies. And they should.

When Ben Steele was a little boy of a year and a half his mother thought he had special skills. She saw an art talent in him that was extraordinary. And she should have, because she was right.

Today Steele is one of the most successful artists in Helper, but despite a pure talent he has for visual concepts and creation, he almost didn't end up being a professional artist.

"I was working on a degree in business and had about two semesters left before I graduated from Southern Utah University," said Steele seated on a stool in his studio on Helper's Main Street. "But I quit because it just didn't seem right."

Born in Kennewick, Wash. and then moving when he was 15 to St. George, he had attended Dixie College and then gone on to the school in Cedar City. He'd always liked art and had been interested in it, but the business world had called.

And then there was golf.

Part of his two years away from school was about the game played on grass. He had thoughts that he might be good enough to make it his profession.

"I had to get past golf before I could move into art," he said. "I found it was a lot easier to recreate art than golf."

At that point he decided that maybe art would be his life.

"I asked one of my old professors which college had the best art school in the state and he told me to look at the University of Utah. So I applied there and was accepted," he stated.

The professors there were impressed with his talent and suggested that he should do some study with David Dornan in a town called Helper. That's how Steele ended up in Carbon County, and the mentoring Dornan gave him proved to be a watershed.

That training and help led him to the philosophy of painting what he was interested in. There are artists who paint to satisfy others, or to go with the flow of whatever will sell. For Steele his idea of creation comes from concept.

"There are artists out there that have great skills, but don't paint from concepts," he said. "For me that is where it begins."

Steele has faced a slow evolution in his painting that many admire. He says his imagery ties into pop culture and art history.

"I never want to be pigeon holed as one kind of artist or another," he said. "I have found that by painting my concepts and changing things a little at a time, I bring my clientele with me. So what I do is to try and introduce one little wrinkle at a time in my work."

Some of his initial work that sold well was his "chrome paintings".

"I could have been trapped into doing the chrome painting thing, and I still do one or two a year, but it would have made me crazy just to paint those," he stated.

Steele says he likes things with powerful color. He has done a lot of that in his career, such as a Mona Lisa coloring page and Pez dispensers on canvas.

"Having a blend of concept and craft is important," stated Steele. "If you lack either in the field of painting you will have little respect."

Steele says it is important to come up with a unique style, because that is truly what art is about. Once an artist develops a type of unique style, however, there will be those that copy it. To stay fresh you have to change and be "one step ahead" says Steele.

He said art used to be about capturing images of things and there was a time when it was used for historical illustration, before cameras and digital photos.

"Today art isn't generally used for that," he stated. "Now in a mass produced world art is one of a kind."

Steele sells his paintings a number of different ways and has permanent displays in Palm Desert, Calif., Santa Fe, N.M., and in Park City.

"Interestingly the restaurant (Balance Rock) here in Helper is where I and other artists here now sell a lot of art," he said.

He and his wife Melanie are part owners of the restaurant and he says that the relaxed atmosphere helps people to look at art and become interested in it.

"They could walk across the street to my gallery and look at what I have, but many see it in the restaurant that would never have come over here," he said.

So where does Steele see his art going now?

"I am developing a paint by numbers theme, using arbitrary colors in unusual places," he said. "It will be numbers piled on top of numbers."

And despite his love for color he is also making famous artists works of art into Etch-a-Sketch paintings, with black lines on a gray background surrounded by a frame that looks like the edges of the famous kids art tool. It even has knobs on the frame just like the real toy.

"Hey, but you can't turn these knobs," he said as he showed one of the frames off.

Obviously that little boys mind, with special skills, is still working.

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