We had the good fortune of connecting with Rick Steinburg and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rick, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Taking risks in creating artworks has been a crucial part of my process in the last five years since I retired from teaching. However there have been times earlier in my life where it was important to minimize risks. The years of establishing my teaching career and raising children required a different balance. The playfulness that is at the center of my taking risks to create art and music played out in being playful and spontaneous with my children and with the elementary art and music students that I taught. My career required a lot of tasks that did not involve my creativity; deadlines, documents that had to be correct, and many meetings were my main struggles with my years of teaching in the public school system. I do think I learned a lot about managing myself from those struggles. Those management skills are helpful now that the balance has shifted into a career of creating artworks and music. I think it’s important in situations that are not purely driven by creativity, to find a way of putting your spontaneity and playfulness into what you are doing. The last five years have been very rewarding in the freedom that I have had to let my creative process play out in a very natural way. I have developed a very spontaneous process that has allowed me to become unafraid of taking risks artistically. I’ve largely been able to break free of the worry that I might “mess up” something. I’ve learned to trust my instincts in how to approach creating and evaluating my work. I do have to remind myself of this at times when I have been very physical and free in the beginning stages of an artwork, only to feel some anxiety at taking the next steps to refine and finish what I have started. It’s so easy to slip into a protective mode, not wanting to ruin the great spontaneous things that happened in the beginning stages of a piece; the danger being that the next steps will be tentative and too contrived to harmonize with how free the initial creation was. When evaluating my progress, many times I will be thinking about tightening up or loosening the visual elements at play; always thinking about what the piece needs. The more definite my ideas were before I started a piece the harder this can be. This is where I have learned to be unafraid and take risks. If I am unhappy with the way a piece is going, I may identify problems and possible solutions. But, if after trying a couple of solutions, the problems still exist, a more radical approach is needed. Many times I will pour paint onto part or all of the piece, apply collage elements that totally change the composition, or cut the piece up and reassemble it in a different way. This part of the process has to be done without much or any regard for protecting what was there previously. I have had great results with this; good things always happen when I am unafraid to “ruin” what existed in pursuit of something that I’m totally happy with. As with any risk, there are failures. But these failures usually end up being successes later on. First of all, I am not wasting time trying to fix things that just don’t work, and many times the fragments that are the result of these failures end up getting used later in a different way that works perfectly. This approach has helped me develop new techniques that help keep me in the spontaneous moment in which the piece was begun. A lot of these relate to how I’m applying the paint. I have begun to do a lot of stamping the paint onto my pieces and using alternative “tools” to apply the paint rather than using a traditional brush. I also use a lot of found objects or repurposed materials which add the possibility of various surfaces and colors, as well as adding shadows and dimensionality to my work. I want my artwork to evoke a sense of time, place, and movement that creates a feeling of being present in a particular moment; not just what life looks like, but what it feels like. For me this is true whether the piece is abstract or representational. In the end, I think that without taking risks in my creative process, my artwork would lose the energy that it needs to express the emotions that I am trying to capture.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
One element that is somewhat unique to my situation is my involvement in both music and visual art. There are both similarities and differences in the two disciplines that play out in my creative life. Simply speaking, in music you are working with time; in art you are working with space. In a song, lyrics and notes are heard, then are gone as the musical clock keeps moving from the beginning to the end of the piece. If a piece is recorded then those musical elements can be heard multiple times; in a live performance they are heard once, then disappear into memory. With a painting, you can take as much time as you want to consider the visual elements. There is usually something that initially grabs your attention, and then with more time, other aspects of the piece come into focus. I think with repeated listening, a song also acts this way. As you hear more of the lyrics the meaning comes into focus, and as you begin to anticipate the musical elements, they work to accentuate what the song means to you. In both music and art, the artist is working to create something that will grab the attention of the audience and then develop that initial idea into something of more substance that will make a longer lasting experience. For me, the challenge is to try to take a personal observation or feeling and create something that could be meaningful to everyone. In the business of music and art, the big challenge is to get people to notice what you have created. How to get your music heard; how to get your art seen; ie; how to make people interested in your work. I have had both success and failure in this pursuit. Many times the failure is related to pursuing venues that are not looking for new artists or musicians; so they are not looking at your art or listening to your music when you contact them. In this case, they probably are not noticing the quality of you work, so you have to not take the rejection personally, and keep looking for receptive venues. Other times, such as juried events, your work may not be what the jurors are looking for, or not be to their taste. You have remind yourself that these are subjective evaluations of your work; and though frustrating, you have to remain confident in your vision and the quality of your work. I think this is the hardest part of being a working artist. I have had a lot of experience with this; first through witnessing my father’s career as an artist, and then my own. I have learned to trust my artistic instincts, channel my passions into making music and artworks, and work to ensure that the craftsmanship of my work is of the highest quality that I can achieve.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting you in Austin, what are some spots they could take them to?
There is always a lot to do and see in Austin, except currently most of it is closed right now due to Covid 19. So these ideas are assuming that the pandemic has ended and these places have survived and reopened. For breakfast or brunch a trip to Pacha or Austin Diner on Burnet Road would be fun, perhaps followed by a visit to Top Drawer thrift shop or one of the many shops on Burnet Road. If vintage clothes and housewares sounded appealing to my guest, a visit to Blue Velvet and Room Service on North Loop would be a good place to start. There are a variety of shops and coffee shops in that area too. On a nice day a trip to Zilker Park or the Butler Pitch and Putt would be great. This puts you on Barton Springs Road, where a meal at the original Chuy’s would fit the bill for an authentic taste of Austin funkiness. If it was hot, a swim at the natural spring fed Barton Springs would definitely cool you off. This area might spill over into a second day, possibly including a visit to Ao5 Art Gallery, who represents my work as well as a variety of contemporary artists. The South Congress area is not far from this, which has shopping, eateries, and clubs. Another day could be spent in the University of Texas area of Austin. Besides the UT campus, the Blanton Art Museum is located near there as well as the Texas State Capitol. On the other side of campus is the Hyde Park Bar and grill, where any meal should include a sampling of their French fries. After a meal there, a walk around the Hyde Park neighborhood is scenic for all the beautiful houses there. During the evening, a visit to the Oasis at Lake Travis or Mount Bonnell in town is a great place to see a beautiful sunset. Later, a visit to an old Austin original, the Continental Club, on South Congress would be fun. There is lots of nightlife available downtown; Rainey Street and East 6th Street are very popular spots currently. And then there is my favorite bar, Firehouse Lounge on Brazos Street, right off 6th Street, it is also a hostel, which is where you enter the bar through a sliding bookcase. It’s a cozy fun place with great bartenders and drinks and you might even find me performing there if you happen to be there on the right night. I’m looking forward to everything reopening soon when the danger of Covid 19 has passed.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My wife, Deby Steinburg, is the driving force behind a lot of the success that I have had with my art in the last five years. She has found a lot of the venues that have provided me with opportunities to exhibit my work. She has done a lot of the leg work in contacting and following up with the people who curate art exhibits in various venues. She designed and administrates my web site which looks great and offers the opportunity for people to easily view my artworks. This is not an easy task with the nearly 300 artworks that I have produced since 2015. Besides all the emails she sends and answers, she keeps track of important dates and deadlines for exhibits and juried shows that I have participated in. She always has a positive attitude about my art and music endeavors and is patient with me when I am expressing frustration about the non creative part of the business. She listens to all my big ideas and deep thoughts about my work which pretty much makes her a saint. And, she sings harmony with me on some of my songs when I perform. I also owe a lot of credit to my father, C. Louis Steinburg, who taught me how to use my imagination and how to use my hands, tools, and materials to make things. He modeled the skills and the creative soul I would need to become a producing artist.
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Rick Steinburg Delleney Steinburg