Steven Bindernagel: A Conversation Through Paint

By Emily Colucci

With paintings that are colorful, complex and filled with a sense of the organic, Brooklyn-based artist Steven Bindernagel revitalizes the somewhat tired medium of abstract painting in his current exhibition Steven Bindernagel: In Conversation at CRG Gallery, which is on view until February 23. With a wide range of influences from the luminosity of Byzantine art to the industrial and urban blight in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Bindernagel’s elegant work contains contrasting forms as heavily structured patterns and shapes erode into blurred washes of paint both celebrating life and portraying the ominous inevitability of death and decay. We spoke to Bindernagel about his intuitive studio practice, his use of color and his representation of the circle of life in his paintings.

The paintings in your exhibition at CRG Gallery are layered and luminous, giving the sense of stained glass. Was stained glass one of your influences in these works?
Steven Bindernagel: I was raised Byzantine Catholic, and the abstracted, flat, oddly composed Byzantine art — stained glass, mosaics, low relief sculpture — really ingrained itself into my head at a young age. I always have found it to be fascinating and a strong influence in my painting.

That being said, my art is not a reinterpretation of Byzantine art. Like many of the references that I cull from, what inspires me becomes mixed up, mashed together, and somehow translated though the act of applying paint to a surface. My process is in many ways intuitive. I try to dance along the fence so that my paintings have an opened-ended feeling to them. Intuition/logic, making a mess/imposing an order, gravity/weightlessness, fast/slow, flat/textured — I want all of these dichotomous elements to be playing with and against each other in my work. Some extremities will at times be more prevalent than others, depending on my mood in the studio or the references I have in mind.

New December, 2012

You describe your artistic process as intuitive. What is your studio practice?
I spend a lot of time in my studio. The first few hours, I’m informally drawing or messing around with paint, reading, organizing, or simply looking at my work. In these hours, new ideas are generated everywhere — from doodles and haphazard occurrences with paint, to reading about any number of things, usually online. By the afternoon, I’m working on my large paintings. I have several paintings going at once, but eventually I hone in on a particular piece and stick with that for the rest of the day (or longer). I don’t work from a specific reference image. Rather, I’m more interested in compiling an organic and instinctual accumulation of marks based on a idiosyncratic visual vocabulary that I’ve been developing since I began painting.

I titled the show In Conversation because I think of my process of painting as a long conversation. It’s a give and take between me and the work—and then once it’s finished, hopefully a new conversation begins with a viewer.

The vibrant colors in your paintings seem to play an important role in your work. What is the role of color in your paintings?
I wanted the paintings in this show to have a sense of life — to be autonomous, unapologetic and bold. At the same time, in each work you see the colors drip or effervesce into the atmosphere, or break down into a grid or geodesic pattern. Color is directly related to light, and If we go back to the stained glass reference, a lot of these pieces intentionally appear to have a back-lit or internal light source. It’s this vibrancy or light that allows me to think of each of my paintings almost as a living organism — a mess of pigments and lines and colorful motifs that manifests one piece at a time.

Midnight in Brooklyn, 2012, mixed media on paper

How does this relate to the works on paper that are without color?
There are three paintings on paper as well, which are painted with varying amounts of silver paint. We could talk for hours about the properties and metaphors for reflected light vs. internal light. But I felt these pieces were an interesting counterpoint to the paintings. To me, the silver pieces have a physicality that pushes against the world—they have a very different presence than the larger paintings, which have a feeling of standing back from the world.  They are obviously related to the larger works in content and mark-making, but definitely have a different feel.

With this blurred and smeared portions of the works, there is a sense of destruction and an ominous atmosphere to your work. How would you like to affect the viewer?
Blurring, smearing, evaporating, eroding, decaying, coalescing — these all describe the active portions in the painting. Though, I wouldn’t describe myself by any means as an “action painter.” A smear can come from a spur of the moment intuition as easily as it can from a logical need for a disruption in a geometric pattern in a painting. Again, it goes back to a system or organism in flux. I want the elements in my work to feel like they are simultaneously forming and decaying, each painting a snapshot or portrait of how my psyche exists in the world at this moment. Ultimately, it comes down to a metaphor for life. We are alive but dying — amazing wonders of evolution who are constantly learning and processing new information all the while, with every second, getting closer to decaying back into the earth. Just as my paintings aren’t about Byzantine art, they also aren’t about the circle of life.  But I do want the viewer to be aware of the presence of life and luminosity, as well as death and decay.

Images courtesy of the artist and CRG Gallery, NY. Photography Susan Alzner.

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