Oil on Canvas
37" x 32.5"
There is a classical and scholarly air to the man featured in Balzac’s Café. His counterpart in this late afternoon standoff consists of a tower of books: old volumes that are yellowed and worn, dog-eared and marked, with one paperback revealing an open fan of pages and acting every bit the lively participant in this conversation. The man’s gestures in mid-exchange are contradictory: the slight smile and open hand are at odds with the concealed hand that statically, almost ominously, holds a lighter in place as the flame burns just beneath the table. Tension between paper and fire is evident, and the dry, smoky atmosphere with water-starved plants and trees nearby accentuate the potential of the flame. The narrative, however, is more open-ended, calling to mind ideas of knowledge lost or willfully denied, the extreme polarization of opinions, or perhaps the suspicion or skepticism characteristic of the postmodern spirit.
Artist Statement / Bio
I paint open-ended narratives that feature ordinary people engaged in ordinary activities. Achieving an effect that is out of the ordinary is where the work begins: the transformation, the editing, the re-imagining. That’s the point at which art overtakes illustration and the specific gives way to the universal. Equal parts ‘eyewitness account’ and ‘symbol-laden parable’ contribute to the tendency of my paintings to invite interpretation yet still retain a comfortable and coherent plausibility. It is a fine balance.
If I were a filmmaker, I’d probably cast the movie before the script was written. Long before I know how the story will unfold, the spark of an idea presents itself in the form of a face, an expression, or a gesture. The gesture, almost always candidly captured, is prominent in most of my work. Since body language is held in a tenuous relationship with any kind of objective truth, context is indeed everything. I use this to my advantage to highlight tension through visual irony—all in the service of provoking thought.
In 2016, I received the Laura Ciruls Painting Award—an accolade given annually by the Ontario Arts Foundation, and one that has meant the most to me, so far. I am very fortunate to have the representation of two well-regarded galleries: Ingram Gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville district, and Earls Court Gallery in Hamilton. My home and studio are located in Orangeville, Ontario where I live with my wife, Wendy.
— Steven Volpe