Polaroid Week: Jim Steg
Jim Steg was an influential printmaker who lived, taught, and created ground breaking work in New Orleans. Late in his career, he began working with Polaroids. Steg took instant pictures with an SX-70, then deftly manipulated them.
The Steg Polaroids, created in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, depict faces, figures, and ephemera. They have a punk, even gothic, edge to them, and often reference art history. They’re highly manipulated, both by surface pressure to affect the internal chemical development, and external processes including cutting, drawing, painting, and collage. There are shades of Klimpt, Van Gogh, Munch, Klee, and many are based on captures from the television screen. The work was exhibited once locally, at the Contemporary Arts Center in 1999.
As 2022 marks the centennial of Jim’s birth, the landmark year provided a perfect excuse to bring these rarely seen, darkly fascinating images back into public view. Jim did not write about his art, so the images themselves must serve as our guide. The Polaroid collection exudes a raw, punkish energy, all the more fascinating considering Steg created the works when he was 62 – 77 years old.
Carol Leake’s statement, though written about Jim’s printmaking, feels equally applicable to his Polaroids: “Although primarily figurative, Steg is at the same time conceptual, creating narratives in which figuration is invariably codified, the inevitable narcissistic pull of the human image serving as a hook, engaging the viewer in a critical confrontation with, most often, an unsettling message.”
It has been a treat to have access to Steg’s collection, providing an intimate process of learning about an artist by listening to the works that are left behind. In the spirit of collaborating with the archive, it is my pleasure to now introduce Jim’s work to a wider audience and thereby open the conversation to others.
Jim Steg: Polaroids will be on view at UNO St. Claude Gallery from Dec 10, 2022 through Jan 8, 2023, in conjunction with the PhotoNOLA Festival. 12pm – 5pm Saturday and Sunday (Closed Dec 24 + 25)
Jim Steg (1922–2001) was an artist and educator. Considered the most influential printmaker to be based in New Orleans in the twentieth century, Steg made a substantial impact on the medium through his own work and his 43-year tenure as a professor of printmaking at Newcomb College. A restless innovator, Steg mastered nearly every known printmaking technique – including serigraphs, woodcuts, photoresist etchings, and ink toner drawings – and invented some of his own. His prints are in the permanent collections of more than sixty museums and institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Born in Alexandria, Virginia, and raised on a farm in Upstate, New York, James Louis Steg lived a quiet childhood between the two World Wars. At the outbreak of WWII he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served within the top-secret Ghost Army unit. After the war, Jim attended the University of Iowa to study printmaking with Mauricio Lasansky. In 1951 he was hired to teach at Tulane University’s Newcomb College, a position that he held until 1992. Upon retirement he swore he would never make another print, and turned to sculpting wood with a chainsaw and taking Polaroids.
Steg’s archive is maintained by his widow, Frances Swigart. The collection features over 1,000 works and includes collagraphs, serigraphs, woodcuts, aquatints, ink toner drawings, photoresist etchings, drawings, paintings, and sculptures.
Jim Steg on Instagram: @jim.steg
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