Steve Hansen BiographySteve Hansen graduated with an M.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame. His work has appeared in over 75 exhibitions, including SOFA Chicago and the Sidney Myer Fund International Ceramics Award in Australia. His work has been featured in "Ceramics Monthly", "American Craft", American Style", "Ceramics: Art & Perception", and "Niche" magazines. His work is in the permanent collections of the Fuller Craft Museum, Mid-West Museum of American Art, American Museum of Ceramic Art, Sonny Kamm Collection, and the University of Iowa. His work has been exhibited in numerous venues, including galleries and museums in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Iowa City, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Steve creates tromp l'oeil ceramic works with themes from art history, advertising, and popular culture. His work has a strong sense of both his Mid-Western roots and his successful career as both an artist an educator. He currently teaches ceramics and Art History at Andrews University.
Steve Hansen StatementIn my work I attempt to address several different directions of thought simultaneously. One of the most important and overriding themes of my work since the 1990’s has been American regionalism. When I turned my back on a promising career as a conceptual artist, and began to make pots in the 1990’s it was in my mind the ultimate outsider art. Ceramics in America has operated on the fringe of the “real” art world for decades, with only a couple of names (Voulkos and Aarneson) appearing in art history texts. When I finally settled on a mature style, I wanted to pay homage to my gene pool, and my sense of self, and to create works that might have been created by my grandfather using “real” license plates, angle iron, tin, and bits of leftover plumbing. The irony of the work resided in the fact that the work itself was created at such a high level of craft that it could not have been achieved by an “outsider” artist.
A couple of years ago I began another series of work. These “stacks” were loosely based on the iconic shape found in many works by Voulkos. This series was driven in part by an observation that “size matters” in ceramics. It seemed to me that much of the ceramic art that was garnering attention in the “art” community was large scale. I had seen Voulkos twice in the year before his death. That fact, in conjunction with the knowledge that he was one of the only artists to bridge the gap between fine art and ceramics led me to use the iconic shape of his stacks as a starting point. With these works I again imagined that my grandfather had been shown a photograph of a Voulkos stack, and had been asked to reproduce it with items he had laying around the shop. In these pieces the level of irony, and the distance between the imaginary “outsider” and the real “insider” grew considerably.
When I began making work that appeared to be made from battered signs it raised the possibility for working conceptually to a new level. In my latest series of pieces, represented by “Indiana Indian”, “Monogram Coke Plan” and “Degenerate Art”, I have moved increasingly into working with a coded language of symbols. These works can be understood and appreciated for purely for their technical merits or for the nostalgia associated with icons of advertising, but there are other levels of understanding available to those who choose to tease them out. In these works I blur the boundaries between art and commerce, between craft and art.
In “Indiana Indian” I used a truncated stack shape, and covered it primarily with images and words referring to Native Americans. There are visual references to Indian Motorcycles, Mohawk Carpet, The Atlanta Braves, The Cleveland Indians, Sioux Falls, and Red Man Tobacco. There is also a Tide logo, meant to represent both the tide of settlers that displaced all these groups, and the tide of uses our culture has made of these words and images. I am curious about how Americans came to be so fond of naming things for Native Americans. We have not named many products after “Redcoats” for instance, or “Nazis” even though we defeated both in wars. Somehow the starvation marches, ethnic cleansing, and refugee camps we forced on Native Americans never lessened the American love affair for using the image of an Indian to sell a product. Part of the personal story in this piece is that my Grandfather was born in what would become the Red Lake Chippewa Nation in Northern Minnesota. For the art insider, there are also two works by Robert Indiana that appear as fragments within the work. The pun Indiana Indian interested me. So the work is functioning as a commentary on advertising, the use of words and images, and also about art as product. The intricate “trick” of making it all out of clay lets the viewer in on the secret, that I probably know what I am doing, and that I function like a circus ringmaster.
“Degenerate Art” is also loosely based on Voulkos stack shape as its first art reference. Other references include “Brillo” boxes by Andy Warhol, a Jasper Johns flag, and a poster for the 1938 Degenerate Art exhibition held in Berlin. I was interested in exploring the idea of “Degenerate Art” so I included a sign for a tattoo parlor, a hillbilly reference which is actually part of the original campaign for Mountain Dew, and a reference to “lowbrow” food, Kentucky Fried Chicken. This piece is meant to blur the lines between high and low art, commerce and commercialism, and to set the mind working on the problem of the Tatoo as a work of art. For the politically minded there is another layer, in that both Warhol and Johns enjoyed alternate lifestyles, and there are those who would thus condemn their work as “degenerate”. Hitler certainly would have. The personal story here is that when I was a child growing up in Minnesota I accompanied my father every Friday to the carwash where he bought me a Mountain Dew in the original green bottle with that hillbilly. This continued for a couple of years until he learned that it contained caffeine, which to a strict Seventh-Day-Adventist was considered to be a “degenerate” drug. I REALLY missed that Mountain Dew.
“Monogram Coke Plan” is based loosely on a spade shape popularized by Hans Coper, an artist who gets to blur the craft/art boundary especially in the U.K. I made this piece after receiving an invitation to attend a play called Bobrauschenbergamerica from the director. She had seen my work and recognized a similar vein of stylistic devices between my work and Rauschenburg’s. I thought about a couple of my favorite Rauschenberg pieces, and made sly references to their individual parts. In Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” of 1955, he stuck a stuffed goat through a tire and placed the resultant sculpture on a bed of found sign parts and wood. I reference this by using a Goat logo, the Michelin Man, and the logo for Monogram pictures. The other side of this work provides clues to the elements of “The Coca-Cola Plan”. In Rauschenberg’s work 3 coke bottles sit along with a striped wooden sphere in a small cabinet with wings attached to the outside. I reference the various parts of that composition by using the Israeli symbol for Coca-Cola, part of a Hot Wings sign, and the AT&T logo for the wooden newel. The overall theme is again art as commodity, and the use of the Israeli logo is meant to add another layer of meaning in regards to our current set of conflicts.
All of these works are meant to be read on multiple levels, but at the same time they can be enjoyed simply as well crafted objects. If I have really done my job well, then my work will enter the world of commodity and be purchased as art, thus creating the final link in the chain of reference.