Citizen LA Magazine Article: Erica Steiner: Can Art Still Be Beautiful?

The article below was originally published in the July, 2008 issue of Citizen LA Magazine. Also available on the Citizen LA website.

Erica Steiner: Can Art Still Be Beautiful?
by Kristi Collacott

Through her latest body of work, Reverie: Meditations on an Ornamental World, showing at Edgar Varela Fine Arts in July, painter Erica Steiner dares to adorn in a manner that is both thought-provoking and beautiful. Using vibrant pastels, gold leaf, and intricate detail, Steiner captures the essence of nature, the true origin of beauty, salvaging splendor while remaining conceptually grounded.

At first glance, these highly detailed paintings may appear to be psychedelic experiences as the colors, patterns, and applique insinuate one wild ride. Upon deeper investigation this experience takes the form of a journey of introspection that transcends time, body and culture in the pursuit of a more profound understanding and concern for the feminine mystique found in the organic beauty of the live earth. "My work is self-referential," she states, "I work from impulse, and from interest, from a place of curiosity." Steiner credits the language of nature as inspiration for her work. Weaving together the bark pattern of olive trees with fuchsia shades of camellias, she paints more of a collective tapestry than a canvas, capturing Nature's normally unseen energy. Allowing herself to indulge in the excessive ornamentation of her canvas, she only considers her work to be successful when the obsessive quality of the details transmutes itself and reveals something unexpected about the authentic nature of beauty.

Just as the Earth intuitively garnishes itself with the finest blooms in the spring, Erica believes that the need to beautify our material world is innate. Considering the current popularity of home decorating shows that are on these days, she really may be on to something. Nevertheless, it is through these acts of adornment, similar to ritual, devotional practices, or the earth's own photosynthetic couture, that the artist sanctifies the abstract idea into something more visually concrete. She states, "I suppose the work strives to experience, and therefore to celebrate and make peace with, the beauty and the suffering inherent in a transitory world."

In graphically twisted art nouveau prints, Erica credits her affinity for beauty to her interest in individual lines, movement, and color and her preference for simultaneity, in grasping the whole while avoiding any narrative. "I am much more interested in sensory experience of places and moments in time--essential experience in the moment, not related to the last moment, not dependent on the next--than I am in telling stories. Painting allows me to more directly express the quiet, subtle moments in life when time slows down, when stories stop...these are the moments that interest me most."

Though it took some experimentation with linguistic expression before Erica herself understood the power of the "pre-linguistic space," it was this big picture point of view that eventually unified her thoughts. A humanistic journey, beginning with BA studies in Art from Mills College in Oakland, followed by a degree in Anthropological Studies, and an MFA in Creative Writing that Erica credits as the defining foundation for her understanding of the world's dynamism.

A native of Northern California's rolling hills, Erica's education brought her into the heart of the city. It was years later though that the effects of the deviation in aesthetic environment manifested itself in her work, permeating the paint with oppositions of beauty. Perhaps this "balancing act" sprang from a need to beautify her inner city surroundings with her country roots. These contradictions are woven in as Erica's paintings capture a variety of opposing perspectives. Byzantine gold leaf and Buddhist ornament melee their way across one work while the detail of India's finest miniature painters see-saws with aboriginal pattern on another. She states, "My work is an unpremeditated act of integration, a balancing act, and an act of continually reaching for what is new and compelling to me. There is attraction and destruction in it, because that is the essence and foundation of life." After all, you can't have beauty without at least tiptoeing past the upleasant.

Erica Steiner' work promises both conflict and compromise. Radically pleasant and intriguingly invigorating, Steiner reminds us that in difficult and chaotic times, beauty still exists. She seizes the opportunity to make a statement while allowing us to savor the splendor of beauty, a sometimes rare experience in today's art market.

Reverie: Meditations on an Ornamental World runs from July 19th to August 10th, at Edgar Varela Fine Arts (EVFA), an eastside gallery located at 542 S. Alameda Street, 2nd Flr. Los Angeles, CA 90013