Steve Larson: An Inspiring Interview

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So often in our youth we forget how indiscernible time has a way of becoming. The moments that we experience in our early adulthood may become mere sentences or moments of hardly recalled time. It is hard to imagine the future, and sometimes even more so the past. To give us some perspective on the transitory nature of both art and life, JAM met with artist Steve Larson at his home in Sioux Falls. He is a former Lutheran minister and social worker that did not begin to create art until he was in his forties. Larson spoke to us about the importance of being open to inspiration, and finding it through fostering a will to keep yourself in constant creative motion. He shared with us his rock collection, past paintings, and his most current 3D constructions. Most importantly, Larson pointed out to us to never consider things to be final, as in our lives, it’s not where you’re at—it’s where you are. -Amy

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JAM: How did you get to where you are today? If you want wanted to start with when you first became interested in art?

Steve: In my 40’s, so 1990-91. I didn’t do any drawing until then. I was a social worker and a therapist, and was doing some dream interpretation with a couple of clients. Carl Jung, [Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology] his is one of the few books I kept. He was doing analysis of dreams and had patients draw or paint pictures of images from their dreams, and they would check symbols and colors. I didn’t know how to draw, so I took a drawing class at Southwest Minnesota State University with Edward Evans, who is an abstract expressionist painter. 

So you started drawing then?

Yeah, cause I was bored with everything that was going on in class, and he noticed I was drawing some strange shapes and things in the border, and asked if I had ever been interested in painting. So, I took a painting class and then I kinda got hooked. I really enjoyed painting.

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Have you always been doing paintings focused on the linear?

Not always, the drawings are different than the paintings. There’s lines, and I started with light backgrounds, and then went to darker backgrounds. These paintings that I’m doing now are really backgrounds; they’re works in progress. I’m working with different colors. But I’ve kind of gotten side tracked with what I call these “constructions.” I had done a couple before I got sick, and people were kind of intrigued with them. 

Do you know what your paintings will look like when you start?

Yes, sometimes. The only paintings would be the geometric ones, where I definitely have it in my head. The circles, those are kind of planned. They’re all dots that blend together from a distance. It doesn’t look like they’re individual but there’s a space between the dots.

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Do you find that you’re meditating when you do your paintings? With all of the repetition?

Yes, I get into it. Seascapes and landscapes and trees. I lose track of time; it’s definitely a form of meditation for me. I think I wrote that for a show once, but I don’t try and analyze it anymore. Sometimes it’s better not to talk about it and just do it. DSC_0047 copy Do you think a lot of art is unconscious?

I think some of it is. I think the personal and meaningful art that isn’t purposely trying to mimic something or somebody else’s style, that comes from some unconscious place that you’re not aware of, is probably closer to who you are. So, maybe playing with rocks and this sort of stuff goes back to something from childhood. I’ve got my dad’s agates, a pail of rocks from walks with my dog, and this pail is all full of painted rocks. They’re all from different walks and trips to the river. DSC_0042 copy

How long does it take you to do a painting?

With a larger size it can be three or four months, but with the smaller ones I’ll do several in a weekend. Over the years I’ve done hundreds. I haven’t sold any in years or done any marketing. 

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What’s your favorite medium to make art with?

Oh, I don’t know. I really enjoy colored pencils right now. I have a lot of drawings in my journal. I can pick it up and put it down. When I’m painting, I’m usually committed for hours. Just staying up all night.

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What do you use to create these constructions?

The white is spackle—I was using a really expensive gel medium and found out this stuff is practically the same chemical makeup and dries hard, and you can sand it if you want. But I end up painting it. Painting over them and putting different finishes on them to see what’s going to work. DSC_0007 copy DSC_0033 copyDo you have a plan for them?

I think what they’re going to turn into now is some kind of city. I just don’t know where I’m going to put it together. Some kind of a habitat or a city. Some of them are shaping out to be buildings and some of them are going to be more figures. I’ve got some soldiers and some plastic cavemen and I think some of them are going to be in the rooms of the different buildings. They [the buildings] get pretty solid. I’ll quit when they start falling over; then I’ll know. DSC_0032 copy It’s fun to play around with what you already have and see how you can interact with what you’re making.

Yeah, because I have all of these things and nobody wants them, so I might as well use them. I need the right size and the right fit and then get the figures in the buildings. I started painting some of them. This is a tedious task, by the way. I don’t know what I’m going to do with that, but I’ll probably keep painting them and adding things to that. Unless I’m trying to make a political statement, which I don’t think I am. Well, maybe unconsciously. DSC_0009 copy Which one is your favorite so far?

There’s one that reminds me of a sailing ship, because it looks like a mast. I haven’t worked on it in a while. I have another one here, with all of these colors. I might do something with it. I’ve been working on it for maybe ten years or more. It probably has hundreds of layers, but it’s just paint. I use it to clean my brush and my stir stick. There’s only one piece of foam core that started it. Sometimes I’ll do something with it everyday and sometimes it will just sit there and nothing happens with it. I don’t know if I’ll incorporate it or keep it separate. Maybe the city will have to have a park or something. I’ve kind of gotten away from painting, so I haven’t been doing it a lot. DSC_0057 copy Will you have color on all of your structures?

Yes, I think so. For the most part. Some of them, if I really like the form, I might just leave them white. I’ll put a protective coating on them. A couple of these I’ve started with glow in the dark paint and I’ll put a couple of layers on them. Then it’ll glow for a couple of hours. I also have magnetic paint, and small foam core pieces as well. Sometimes I would make them into jewelry. I’m going to do something with those—I really don’t know.

Do you think you’ll show your city?

I don’t know where. This summer I may assemble it and lay it out and see how it looks. I would need a space. They’re pretty sturdy as far as moving them from place to place, unless you drop them.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the wrong century—the wrong dimension. I know what I look like, but I don’t feel that way. I felt 40 years younger on my bike today. I don’t know why I’m doing this or what my purpose is, but for some reason I am.   DSC_0029 copy Do you get inspired on your bike rides?

This is back to the unconscious thing. I don’t do an awful lot of drawing in nature, I don’t do en plein air…Very rarely. I get ideas and they’re there, and then I’ll come back. Especially in nature and even buildings. A lot when I travel. I usually have a travel journal if I’m out of state or going to a larger city. Those things make an impression on me, as I’m sure they do with other people.

It’s hard to know where it’s coming from.

Yeah, I don’t keep the best notes I guess. I don’t write everything down. I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away, like old stuff. I always feel out of sync. There’s that need to do something that clicks with the people. Be marketable. Some artists aren’t interested in that. So when you ask about showing, I don’t know if I’m interested in that. It’s a lot of work, and then it’s the same people coming. DSC_0022 copy DSC_0072 copy (1) Do you have any advice for artists?

Don’t do it! (laughing) To thine own self be true. I used to have that speech memorized. You’ve got to be true to yourself and to do that you have to know who you are. You need a certain amount of introspection without becoming self-obsessed. Having a dog helps with that, it helps ground me. And family and friends. Do what you like to do. I’m doing what’s fun right now. It might not have practical purpose but for some reason it’s fun. []

Steve’s contact info:




All photography by Katie Farritor

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