In the first of a series of blogs, Steve talks us through his early career as an artist and gives some insight into one of his most popular pieces - Raw Bar.
Art was always a part of my life. When I was young, I dreamed about being an artist but as I got older, I realized I didn’t quite know how to make it happen. I heard that being an architect was one way to make a living with art, but then I learned there was a technical side with math and data and I wanted to be more creative than that.
I always worked on artsy things in High School – designing sets for school plays and taking art electives at any opportunity. I had a really influential teacher in school called Mr. Walker. In his class, I made a sculpture of Michelangelo’s The Florentine Pietà which he entered into a competition for me – I ended up winning that competition and getting presidential recognition for it. That made me think about becoming a sculptor or ceramicist. The limiting factor for that was that I had these crazy ideas and wild drawings I wanted to create and I didn’t think they’d be very effective as sculptures.
When I was 19, I started taking an oil painting class at Center for the Arts at the Vero Beach Art Museum. These classes were a perfect escape from everything else going on in my life - all I had to do for three hours was focus on my art. At that time, I was working two part-time jobs in restaurants, and taking an initial 2-year college degree. I’d been working in restaurants since I was 14 years-old and at this stage, with 5 years’ work experience, I realized that I could push ahead with a more conventional living and make money, or I could make a little less money and be a lot happier by pursuing being an artist. I just still wasn’t sure how I could make that happen.
Before my class one week, I was at the beach staring out at the sea, thinking about what to do – I knew I wasn’t in a position to be able to go to art school like some of my friends had done, but I was just praying and contemplating life, when I saw a dolphin jump up out of the ocean. I’ve always loved dolphins and had an affinity for them. It felt like a really significant moment for me. I went to my art class and as I was walking into the classroom, my teacher, Glenda Taylor, mentioned to me a local surf shop was looking for artists to design their surfboards. I told her I’d have to miss that week’s class.
I went straight to the surf shop – they were closed but I saw the lights were still on, so I started knocking on the door. Melanie, the owner, came to the door and told me they were closed. I explained how my teacher had mentioned about them looking for an artist, she told me to come back the next day. The next day, I met with Melanie and her husband Eric Swanson and showed them some of my art. They asked if I had any experience with airbrushing - I didn't but I was determined to show them I was a quick learner. They told me to get some experience airbrushing and come back in two weeks. I bought an airbrush gun and some stencils and practiced like hell. Two weeks later I went back and showed them what I’d done and they gave me my first job in art. I’ve been able to call myself a professional artist ever since.
More from Steve next week…
The story behind Raw Bar
Raw Bar was the first piece I created for my own brand back in 2002. It was inspired by some of my wild friends and the shenanigans we would get into when we went out drinking. We would get down to the Keys for some nights out or go on cruises. "Raw Bar" is particularly inspired by the Florida Keys. Growing up in Florida I’ve always considered myself a fish. I thought it was funny – we are in the water like fish but also drinking like fish.
When I thought about how a marlin would drink – he has to be shotgunning it by piercing it with his bill. The crab too – when you think about how he would have to hold it with his claws, it makes sense that he would be chugging it.
I always say this piece represents my friends and me which is true, but it isn’t necessarily one character representing one friend - they are all mixtures. I often get asked which fish I am in the art, and it honestly depends on the day, but I think – as my drink of choice is a Tito's and cranberry - I’m closest to the grouper in this one.
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