Steuart Pittman, NEW VOODOO

Zza’s Wine Bar. 550 Grand Ave. Oakland. will be hosting the paintings of Steuart Pittman this Saturday night, April 2, 2011.

The show will run for six weeks. The title of the show is “NEW VOODOO”


Obi: How long have you been in Oakland Steuart? How did you come to find yourself living in your great apartment in West Oakland?

Steuart: I moved to Oakland from Chicago four years ago to attend Mills College. I’ve lived in the Ghosttown/Northgate/Uptown neighborhood for the last two and a half years. I used to have a separate studio space in Jack London Square and when the opportunity arose to consolidate life and work into one warehouse unit, I jumped on it. I feel comfortable and at home in this big old building, and I’m generally attracted to the industrial nature of the neighborhood. It’s safe to say that the architecture and colors throughout West Oakland are an influence in my work.

Obi: How did the title of this show come about? New Voodoo? I know you are imagining a new type of art-magic that holds power in and of itself and not making any specific reference to religion, are you?

Steuart: That is true, for the most part. I’m not sure what the paintings I build contain – in terms of power or meaning – but I’m hesitant to assume that they are entirely neutral, or void of some force. I’m as pragmatic as the next guy, but when you spend so much of your time trying to fabricate objects that are both precious and useless, there is an implicit sense that you believe there is something greater that’s  going on.

My partner is a writer and she and I are working on a book of spells together called New Voodoo for the Modern Practitioner. I’m doing the illustrations. We both became interested in voodoo around the same time but we are focusing on different elements of the practice. I feel an affinity with shrines, in particular. Last year I saw a photography exhibit at the Museum of the African Diaspora (Brian Wiley’s African Continuum: Sacred Ceremonies and Rituals) devoted to shrines, and – though I didn’t think much of it at the time – I keep returning to the notion of random physical objects possessing specific, appointed powers. But, no, I’m not making any explicit observations here on a given religion, Haiti, New Orleans, Cuba, etc. Rather, I’m thinking about the ways in which my own painting practice resembles a devotional act.

With that said, I’ve developed a real reverence for voodoo culture and its various practitioners. As a humble homage, I’m pleased to be sending 10% of the proceeds from this show to relief efforts in Haiti. Who knows, if abstract paintings in a wine bar in Oakland can generate even the tiniest impact on a crisis halfway around the world, maybe that right there is the New Voodoo.

Obi: Your process to make paintings seems to start on a very gestural level and then build slowly from there. Is that right? How did you come around to this process and how does the text fit in? I know your titles inform the work a lot.

Steuart: The paintings I’ve been making in the last couple years develop slowly and conclude relatively quickly. I draw all the time in various sketchbooks and this helps me generate all sorts of ideas – lines, shapes, phrases, and jokes – that then begin to inform the paintings. I’m fairly traditional in the sense that I make a ton of drawings that are used as studies for a smaller body of oil paintings.

With my paintings, I build the support structures with as much care and precision as I can muster, and then I try to get across one concise, elemental idea in the final composition. I hope these works function like a mysterious haiku as opposed to a lengthy novel. Ideally, they will arrive at some precarious balance between harmonious formalism and eccentric quirkiness.

In specific regard to the titles, I have to cite one of my mentors at Mills College, Ron Nagle, who maintains that there is no higher philosophic order than that of the one-liner. The great Chicago painter, Jim Nutt, is one of my favorites and he too is a master of the provocative, curveball title. Life is too short to take art or anything too seriously, so I try to keep things fresh with the titles. I think I’ve really raised the bar with this show, there are some good ones…

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  • Moises Aragon

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