Sporting a deep burgundy jacket, a checkered yellow and gray shirt and big black sunglasses, John Steins strikes a pose next to one of his pieces, entitled “Selfie.”
The resemblance is uncanny.
It’s the opening night of the Dawson City artist’s latest exhibition — titled New Work— that mixes his latest print and video work.
Steins’ work goes from ultra-realistic renderings of digital photos he took in Dawson City to mysterious abstract art.
But they all share a common element: Stein’s passion for wood as a medium.
The former mayor and current studio technician at the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) came up with some of his pieces as inspiration for future woodwork.
There are the print pieces made from wood engravings and woodcuttings that are neither abstract nor realistic art.
“Write Twice Turing” for example has the feeling of abstract geometrical art and yet is reminiscent of some fantastic world — take the design of Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secret for example.
But in his exploration of mixing woodblock elements into print, Steins doesn’t get pigeonholed to one style.
Using digital photography and computer effects, his photos of the streets of Dawson City, the Alchemy Café, or a cabin turn into works of beautiful creations.
“(Wood) is an interesting medium,” Steins said. “I like the tactile part of it.”
But working with wood comes with its share of challenges — and that’s what Steins is looking for.
“I like the surprise element: You don’t know 100 per cent what will happen.”
Much of Steins’ print work is meant as an inspiration for potential future colour or black and white woodcuts.
“I like working with my hands, I like the idea of expressing myself.”
Even some of the videos shown at the exhibition fit this interest with wood and woodblocks.
In “Digging for Treasure in Bonanza” a crane digs piles of dirt, presumably in a placer miner operation. But it’s the post-processing that make the video fit Stein’s theme: besides the black outline of the crane and the piles of rocks, all the colours have been stripped and replaced. The sky is now coloured bright orange, the piles of rocks are yellow.
In another video, a negative space rendering of Steins filming himself — everything is black, expect for the outline of the room and Steins’ face which are in white — reflects yet his obsession over woodcutting.
Part of this exhibition is also an homage to Stein’s father, Ilgvars.
“There’s a reference to his style (in the work),” Steins said. “The black stuff and some of the pieces.”
Steins said his father’s work influenced him in a lot of ways, but can’t precisely pinpoint how.
According to Arts Underground, Steins has been printmaking in his log cabin studio since 1978. Some of his art was chosen to be permanently featured at the law court in Whitehorse.
At the opening reception, Steins is chatting with some of the people who came by.
“I’ve been making art for a long time,” Steins said. “I’m not incredibly ambitious about going out into the world.”
And after all, he’s already gotten a taste of what notoriety is like during the infamous “Axis of Weasels” incident of 2003. At the time eBay pulled a set of prints he made mocking George W. Bush over the invasion of Iraq before changing its decision.
New Work runs at the Arts Underground’s Focus Gallery until May 27. More information is available at artsunderground.ca.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com