Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eight Minutes with Prøve Gallery Director and Co-founder Steven Read

Last year ten UMD art students collaborated in a pair of shows in the space once occupied by the European Bakery on First Street here in Duluth. The shows were so successful that four of these students got fired up by the idea of starting a more permanent gallery in an abandoned space. Steven J. Read was one of these and the gallery they opened has been much talked about in the nearly six months it has been planted in the heart of our downtown scene.

Read is Gallery Director and Co-founder of the Prøve Gallery at 21 N. Lake Avenue in the Sons of Norway building. His exhibit (un)natural reactions got a lot of attention last fall in a Duluth Art Institute show in the Depot.

EN: How did you first get interested in the arts?

Steven J Read: Kindergarten. We had free time, and I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Not just, oh I like dinosaurs, but I could talk your ear off about them. I started making paper models of every dinosaur that I could find in my books. Dinosaurs, wood blocks, and Legos, that’s what
makes up my very early artistic career.

EN: Can you summarize briefly the stages of your art development? How did you evolve from strict visual arts to the kind of work you do now?

SJR: So, from paper dinosaur models in kindergarten, my next formal arts education would be all my time spent in school bands and orchestra. After we moved to Anoka I started getting very serious about the technical side of live theatre. This led me to UMD to pursue my BFA in Technical Theatre with an emphasis in Scenic Design. While pursuing my theatre degree, I grew unhappy with my training and decided to supplement my scenic design training by taking art classes.

It was in these fundamental art classes that I knew that I wanted to be an artist. When I think about my work I see a very natural progression to the work I do now. Currently my work is steeped within the conceptual and minimalist camps. My training as a Scenic Designer is essential to where I am now. As a designer, one of your jobs is to help visually re-enforce the play, to help to tell the details that are not in the script. My work tells a story, it’s never a straight narrative, and sometimes it is as simple as a movement or a cadence. I also work a lot with natural elements. I spend the majority of my childhood living in the country. When you’re a kid and you live next to a nice hardwood forest you spend a lot of time out there. We build tree forts, bike trails, catapults, and swings. All this time spend playing in nature gives you this guttural connection, you can’t shake it, I can’t shake it, so I work with nature. The last element of my work is my formalist side. My work has a minimalist slant to it, but it is not minimalist. When I am in an art museum I am drawn to the minimalist and abstract work. I do work I love, can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.

EN: Duchamp said that making art was a subversive activity. Yet so many artists today look at it as a way to achieve commercial success and validation. Where do you stand between these two poles?

SJR: Money is great, but I don’t try to sell work. But, this doesn’t mean I don’t want to sell work. My first goal is to make something that is interesting, something that I enjoy, and if it sells, cool.

EN: What are the biggest lessons you've learned through your experience with the PROVE Gallery?

SJR: Community is everything, without a strong community around you, your just a crazy person. It has also re-enforced, “if you want something, don’t wait for it, do it.” Thank you Grandpa for that guidance.

EN: Where do you see yourself in five years?

SJR:
Graduated from Penn State with my MFA, being an artist, oh, and I will have a dog by then. Besides that I don’t know. I am not against the idea of having another gallery, teaching art at a university, or making a living as an artist. We’ll see what falls into place, I’m just excited to see where everything goes.

EN: If you were not doing art, what would you be doing?

SJR: Working. Beyond that I have no idea.

EN: Please describe your past exhibit at the DAI, (un)natural reactions? And what's the underlying philosophy behind these works?

SJR: With (un)natural reactions I wanted to dive further into my two main focuses, nature and formalism. All the work has regional influences; all but one piece has something to do with the lake. I hope that the exhibit changed how people view the area we live in. It’s hard for me to find an underlying philosophy. When I did the work I would first start with a feeling, the pressure from a storm, the history of a rock, the movement of a map. I know that these are very hard to understand, this is why I wanted to work with them in an art piece, for me to explore these instances and then for the audience to be able to join in to. When I do work I spend a lot of time thinking about the views of the piece and how they will interact with the work. It is very important for me that the view and the pieces have the space and time to “talk”.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences in the arts? Which people and period of art history have most inspired you?

SJR: Starting with Duchamp and going just past the minimalist, that’s my formal focus, but I do look at a lot of contemporary art, you have to. I also am influenced a lot by field guides, Euclidian geometry, and music. I also read a lot, beat poetry and prose like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Garry Snyder , art writings like Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and John Cage, outdoor writing like Sigurd Olson, and technical and how-to books. I feel that to be a good artist you need to have a strong studio practice and you also need to continue to learn and study.

Follow Steven Read and the other members of the Prøve Collective on Facebook.

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