A Painter's Perspective: Steve Redman on the Art of Looking Back
The following writing reflects information gained during an intimate interview with Indianapolis artist Steve Redman, where he reminisced on a lifetime of artistic exploration and revealed the history behind the works featured in Sheafer + King Modern’s exhibition, Steve Redman: A Retrospective, running from June 23-July 23, 2023.
Born in Poseyville, Indiana in 1944, Steve Redman’s artistic journey began with an unwavering certainty that can only be described as destiny. From his early years, his path unfolded seamlessly, leaving him with no recollection of a time that he was separated from the artist. Instead, he found himself reflecting on formative days of local exhibitions and gold keys. Redman's high school years were marked by a range of extracurricular activities, from band and basketball to football and the yearbook club, where he held the position of editor. Earning the reputation of a true renaissance man, Steve fondly recalled being recruited for miscellaneous jobs around school, like the repeated springs spent crafting prom decorations.
Redman’s artistic abilities flourished into the 1960s, encouraged by the continued support from his school teachers. One educator in particular, whose son had enrolled at the John Herron Art Institute, inspired Steve to pursue his own artistic passions in Indianapolis. His education would require a considerable move away from his small hometown. Driven by his desire to paint and bolstered by a half-tuition scholarship, Redman began his studies at old Herron in the fall of 1962. This time of Steve’s life would prove to be a melting pot of artistic styles, with influences ranging from Abstract Expressionism and Realism to Minimalism and Pop Art.
Redman attended the John Herron Art Institute from 1962 to 1967, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a specialization in painting. Early in his studies, Steve had a transformative experience that he believes shaped the course of his life. Following his first year, a professor, Lauren Dunlap, brought a collection of design students to New Harmony to work as art instructors for the summer. The group showed up at Steve’s childhood home in Poseyville and in the Redmans’ backyard proposed that he join them. As he had always done in the past, Steve was ready to embrace the newest endeavor that presented itself. Despite his enthusiasm, his father dismissed the idea as there was no money involved in the job. Redman views this day as a fortuitous encounter that would permanently alter the trajectory of his artistic career. Had he pursued that venture, he believes he might have followed the art education path instead.
The summer of '65 saw the rise of alternative culture, with the Beatles dominating the airwaves, Civil Rights marches reverberating through the streets, and the advent of hippie lifestyle taking over the collective consciousness. For Steve, that summer was marked by a scholarship he had received from the Burr House at the Woodstock Art Students League. Drawing inspiration from nature, he created plein-air paintings, capturing the raw beauty of the landscape and the essence of his time in New York.
The subsequent summer brought more opportunity when Redman received a scholarship from the Fine Arts Work Center’s Provincetown Workshop in Cape Cod. This time was marked by experimental collage art and finding solace in a site-specific hobby: sailing. His plein-air paintings continued with increased Abstract Expressionist influence. Amongst his accomplishments that year was receiving an honorable mention in the Evansville Museum’s annual Mid-States Art Exhibition. The show featured the work of 347 artists.
Briefly after college, Redman worked as a framer at an art gallery before being hired by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1970. There he worked under chief preparator Henry Eckert, assisting with the installation of the inaugural exhibition at the museum’s present-day location. His involvement with the museum extended into his own art, showcasing his airbrush work in the 63rd and 64th Indiana Artists Exhibitions. In 1971, he was awarded the Wilbur Peat Memorial Prize for Best Painting from the IMA against 500+ submissions.
While employed at the museum, Redman dedicated a significant portion of his time to freelancing, dreaming of “making it” as an artist in Chicago. Although he did achieve his desires to exhibit in the city, he now reflects on those times and laughs, finding irony in the fact that his retrospective exhibition is taking place merely steps away from his own Indianapolis residence. These unique circumstances have allowed Steve to walk enormous paintings down the Monon Trail, as they proved too big to fit in his car, and empowered him to look back on his lifelong portfolio without hindrances on what he can show.
The late ‘60s and ‘70s brought success for Steve, receiving widespread recognition and numerous accolades for his art. Noteworthy accomplishments included accepting a residency at Shortridge High School, being featured in the New York City show of New Talent at the Allan Stone Gallery and the Indiana Contemporary Artists Exhibition at the IMA’s downtown gallery, and being rewarded at multiple “500” Festival of Art Exhibitions. He also won the Louis Hoffman Memorial Award at the 28th Annual Wabash Valley Exhibition, juried by Robert Indiana, for an airbrush piece that was permanently acquired by the Swope Art Museum. Out of 985 entries, 169 were chosen, 37 of them Indiana artists, with 2 works belonging to Redman.
In the spring of 1971, Peggy Jackson of the Indianapolis News penned an article titled New Things Are Out When Steve Redman Decorates, focusing on the artist’s eclectic furnishings of his carriage house apartment. Pictured, he drew inspiration from Peter Max and Pop Art when decorating his suite. In this writing, Jackson captured the essence of Redman’s art through design, aptly stating that “he doesn't know the where, or the when, only the how” of his practice.
The 1980s reunited Steve with Henry Eckert, this time at his Westfield studio which he shared with his wife, Jane. It was there that Redman’s future in art conservation was born, under the close guidance of Henry. After five years of apprenticing with Eckert, Steve established his own restoration practice, selecting the Faris building in Indianapolis for his workspace. This location served him for twelve years before its closure in 1999, marking the end of an era. During this time, Redman continued to be featured in exhibitions including On View Review in downtown Indianapolis and the Evansville Museum’s first Old Gallery Invitational. In 1990, he received the Annual Hoosier Salon’s L.S. Ayres prize for Outstanding Achievement for a collage piece.
Since the early 2000s, Redman has continued to pursue his passion for art restoration and creating. Residing in his present-day studio behind Midland Arts & Antiques, Steve has enjoyed twenty-three years in the space. This workshop is a former garage that has been converted into three studio spaces, which Redman has shared with many beloved artists over the past two decades. One in particular, R.A. (Drew) Buys, not only enriched Steve’s life in the form of friendship, but propelled his own artistic career in new directions. Buys unexpectedly and tragically passed away in 2021, but his memory remains with Steve forever. The artistic duo embarked on plein-air painting sessions together and shared materials and ideas freely. Buys encouraged Redman to continue exhibiting his work, while Steve provided an invaluable mentorship in return. While Buys attended class at Redman’s alma mater, Herron, Steve salvaged discarded belongings for the two to repurpose as found object art. Even now, Redman finds himself continuing to collect materials that he and the late Buys might have used, excited at the possibilities that lie within the forgotten treasures.
Today, Steve finds inspiration in readymades, with a fascination of color and repetition. He believes that by repurposing everyday objects, he is able to communicate a profound message of the human experience. Looking at a particular piece, where Redman has carefully adhered bottle caps to a wooden surface, the viewer is able to discern their origins and prior purpose. Elements like expiration dates instill a sense of urgency. While broader themes of consumerism and consumption may arise, Steve places more emphasis on the creative process, the collection of the caps, and their arrangement based on color, size, and shape.
A constant thread throughout his artist journey has been his passion for plein-air paintings. Holding these as his most cherished pieces, Redman finds that the memory of a day is preserved through the creation of these works. More than just visually encapsulating the landscape, he is able to recall what he was wearing, who he was with, the weather, and more, the day permanently etched into his mind. Creating these works brings a sense of clarity to the artist, while evoking a sense of vulnerability due to the emotional aspects behind their crafting. That being said, Steve has found that the profound memories ingrained within the canvas makes it painstakingly difficult to part ways with those works.
Since opening his current studio, Redman has actively engaged with the local community in numerous ways. In 2002, he participated in The Herron 100, where 100 artists who had studied at the Herron School of Art & Design donated a piece of their work to be sold for $100, with proceeds benefiting the school. Redman and his partner, Dorwin Starr, have recently received recognition for their support of Indiana Landmarks’ preservation initiatives. He has worked with the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association on restoring T.C. Steele landscapes, which has provided inspiration and influenced his art style. Additionally, he has previously opened his studio for tours in collaboration with the IMA’s Artist Alliance, completed restoration work on Butler University’s art collection, and been featured in the Swope Art Museum’s show Wabash Valley Exhibition Throwback: Color.
Embarking on this retrospective journey has meant unearthing a trove of letters, folders, and photographs that stir old memories that had remained dormant since Steve tucked them away decades ago. With each rediscovered piece, a deeper sense of gratitude is felt as he is reconnected to his past self. Facing himself in the mirror, he likes what he sees. There are no regrets, instead excitement, with Redman looking forward to what the future brings. With the immense undertaking of sifting through his past artworks completed and a newfound sense of self-assurance, Steve now stands on the precipice of his next creative chapter, knowing that it has the potential to be his best one yet.
Steve Redman, today.
To view the video version of the interview with Steve, click here: https://youtu.be/aT58Gujgn_0
1967- Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, John Herron Art Institute
1970- Master of Fine Arts in Painting, Indiana University Bloomington
1965- Woodstock Art Students League, Burr House Scholarship
1966- Fine Arts Work Center's Provincetown Workshop Scholarship
1966- Evansville Museum's Annual Mid-States Art Exhibition, Honorable Mention
1971- Indianapolis Museum of Art's 63rd Annual Indiana Artists Exhibition, Wilbur Peat Memorial Prize for Best Painting
1972- 28th Annual Wabash Valley Exhibition, Louis Hoffman Memorial Award
1990- Annual Hoosier Salon, L.S. Ayres Prize for Outstanding Achievement
Most information was given by the artist himself, with details being checked using resources including the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News. Special thank you to Kyle Kingen for his research assistance. All photographs taken by Hailey Younkin unless otherwise noted.