Visual Arts Journal
School of Visual Arts Magazine
Attempting to untangle the intricacies and expressiveness of Steven Bindernagel’s (MFA 2006 Fine Arts) work is no easy task. “My perspective is that an artist’s job is to pose questions rather than provide answers,” he says. “I make work because I need to communicate in a particular way.” This notion manifests itself in the geodesic-like forms that inhabit Bindernagel’s drawings and paintings, which simultaneously deal with both creation and destruction.
His mark-making shows a history of previous layers, evidence of the internal struggle between color and structure. “Each piece starts from the bottom up, and I have an idea how it’s going to start, but I’m not sure what it’s going to look like when I’m finished,” Bindernagel says. “That’s part of the joy in it for me. When you’re in there it’s frustrating because you wipe away something you spent a day basically drawing, but there are traces of it left. Then you build the next layer onto that. It’s an ongoing process.” It is this ongoing process that allows him to switch back and forth between painting and drawing in a coherent manner and still surprise himself when he begins a new work and makes connections to what he’d done previously.
“At first glance his work is unabashedly beautiful; color resonates and explodes off paper and canvas. At the same time a dark, brooding, even stained background is ever-present,” says Richard Desroche, one of the co-owners of CRG Gallery, which represents Bindernagel in New York City. “What may not be immediately obvious is nonetheless treated with equal deftness. For Bindernagel, soft and gentle must always be juxtaposed with
harsh and aggressive.”
It is in his use of bright colors versus ever-present rusty browns or black that seem to seep into the cracks and crevices, or in some cases wash out entire areas of work, that make up the majority of Bindernagel’s work. “I think of it as a rust or corrosion breaking down these structures, a kind of death or destructive force to the lively, bright structured shapes,” he says. “But a lot of times what happens is that out of that black and grimy part new things start to emerge. Almost like a circle, you have to have the destruction and death before you can have new life.” The black lines also give a structure to the work, almost like a membrane on which the color resides, allowing it to take shape and exist while also pulling things apart. Black lines often form gridlike passages. “I want it to be intentionally ambiguous, where you don’t know if things are dissolving into or forming from the background. Things are always kind of in a state of flux or motion,” says Bindernagel. “It’s that sense of uneasiness or weirdness that keeps me going back. If things are too straightforward, the work is easily understandable and not as interesting to me.”
Bindernagel attributes a lot of the atmosphere in his work to growing up in the rust-belt city of Cleveland. “I think some of those architectural influences definitely creep back into my work,” he says. “A lot of the empty industrial buildings in and around Cleveland are falling apart, but I think there’s a beauty in the halfway broken down and rusting.” The other half of his work can be related to his current environment—New York City, with its bright and vibrant, glowing and pulsating colors. “I think it’s a combination of those two references and influences that I’m combining different parts of my life basically into one work,” the artist says. “When I say they’re abstract, it’s because I pull bits and pieces from wherever I want just to combine into one image.”
The content and meaning in Bindernagel’s work, while abstract, definitely overlap from piece to piece, and they all join together in a cohesive series. For some of the works, color and light take center stage, while in others the structure and dominance of the black lines destroys and controls. It’s a definite dystopia in which both light and darkness have their place and are allowed to run free and evolve. Under Bindernagel’s guidance and deft fingers, both seem of equal importance. It seems likely that this cycle will continue to grow and change, just as it always has.
To view more of Bindernagel’s work, go to: www.stevenbindernagel.com