This blog contains references to addiction, drug use and a near death experience which may be distressing to some.
S. Korey Steckle creates collage from elements cut into geometric forms that sprawl across a crisp white background, often in the colors and textures of our urban environments with lots of negative space. Like finding images in the clouds, people often see varying things in the works and are drawn to different entry points when viewing them. Steckle says, ‘I place value on the space in my work as much as I do the information that I lay down. My goal is to recreate the act of motion or movement. Thus, there is a flow and distinctive aesthetic or look.’ Inspiration for recreating this sort of movement came from studying Edgar Degas paintings of female dancers and horses.
To create his geometric and abstract collages, S. Korey Steckle collects magazines about fashion, design, photography, politics, skateboarding and surfing. He works in a studious way, absorbing the information in the magazines, taking notes, and organizing his thoughts using colored post it notes. A capable photographer and painter, Korey often uses his own work in those mediums in his collages as well. Using an Exacto knife or scissors he intuitively extracts pieces from these collected sources using instinct and a keen artistic eye. Keeping with the organized methods of creating, piles are created from these cuttings; sorted by sizes and colors which he later pulls from to create the collages he is known for now. Steckle is devoted to using Pritt glue sticks from Wyndham Art supply store in Guelph, Ontario where he lived prior to moving to Cape Breton.
Whether Steckle is learning something new about literature, music, film or gaining a new insight about a creation of art, he is energized by it. Likewise, I was also excited to learn that Steckle wrote a memoir, yet to be published, about his life and work. Steckle is Bengali born and was adopted into Canada. He has dealt with the same issues that he hopes his memoir will help others with, such as issues around adoption, addiction, bullying, alcoholism, and racism. Another creative venture involving writing is planned with the very talented author, Amanda Crewe, to produce a chapbook of poetry and collage. Steckle is also a father, and he says he is excited because he now gets to watch his son grow up after years of making trips during summer and the holidays to visit him. He collaborated with his son between 2013-2020 on a series of video shorts using stuffed animals as characters. His son is also his official photographer and captures him in his studio and in the field.
When asked about the catalyst for his artmaking now, a gripping story of curiosity, tenacity, courage, and strength appears.
‘I read a book that exhibited spiders web work while the spiders were on acid from my public high school library in Southwestern Ontario. I was completely entranced and wanted to touch or tap into what the spiders did.’ At 14, he says he took LSD to experience what the spiders did.
He became a father in 2008, but in 2009, because of drug and alcohol use and anxiety he would leave Cape Breton just prior to his son turning two and return to southwestern Ontario where his parents were. Even while dealing with these issues and the guilt of not being in Cape Breton, he became very adept at landscape paintings between 2011 and 2013 and was a stickler for the details, but admits that his main goal then, was to obtain drugs and alcohol daily. While looking through the thousands of photographs he had taken of Cape Breton Island in a daze from his new home in Toronto, he decided to sketch a scene and paint it, discovering his ability to paint with acrylics with sufficient application of his focus and skills. In 2014, wracked with overwhelming guilt and while using alcohol and drugs Steckle was in a near fatal car crash. At that time, he says, ‘I was merely existing’.
About the crash he writes, ‘I felt that the shackles of addiction and life were being cast aside finally and that I was finally in control of my own destiny. I felt I was a burden to everyone close to me, and that they would be better off if I was not alive. In one of the flips the car took I was ejected through the sunroof; my body flew 90 feet from where the car was found by authorities. Surprisingly, I had not one scrape or cut on my face. However, the back surgery that followed placed 7 steel/metal pins and rods in my back. I suffered a broken ankle and a slight bleeding on the brain. I came to in the hospital a week later not remembering a thing.’
Common amongst many artists, art helped him move through this time and provided a steady course for him to heal.
‘The Art Gallery of Ontario, of which I was a member, influenced me greatly. Viewing, up close, the works of the masters, and seeing their smudges and what I perceived to be a non concealed mistake on a Picasso, gave me the confidence to state on canvas what I felt; no matter what the messy outcome resulted in. But I could not fully express this with acrylic painting, so I returned to my true love as a teenager. Collage.’
‘When I was 16, I was creating covers for my DJ mixes covering the whole area of a cassette case or CD case. At the encouragement of my girlfriend Natasha in 2016, I ventured to let my work sprawl and flow as you see today. At first it was rough and rudimentary. I look at my work from these early days and I see evolution to where I am now. It is an artist searching for his voice and forging a path forward. I was not to conform; I never have. I knew in my heart that the art world would come to me as I honed my skills daily. There were early mornings when in the studio at 6am I would question why I was up so early with a glue stick in hand or cutting into magazines. But those moments where I silenced my doubts are the reason I am here today.’
Steckle has been able to exchange ideas and questions with individuals he has respected and looked up to since his teen years in art, photography, fashion, politics, and literature. Moving forward he wishes to work in video art installations, blending audio, moving and still images in both color and black and white. This may include his collages moving in animation as well. He also envisions his collage work to be layered over large sculptural pieces.
In an article written by Steckle in the Guelph Today Venture about being an artist during the pandemic, he states, ‘The art world has gone dark for the most part. In this darkness the ones who continue, such as myself, shine even brighter now. Especially in times of strife and unrest, artists are needed to bear witness through these challenging days and nights ahead.’
I feel this is what Steckle has done in his art career. Through the darkness he has shone bright and consistently aims to move further and forward. Now 4 years sober, he has not shied away from bearing witness to his own story and shares it freely to help others. In his study and selection of portions of the magazines, his own photos and his paintings he captures his own life in relation to the collective. He chooses which pieces to select for each collage to relay his story in a visual memoir of sorts.
There is a sense of freedom and fluidity in the collages he creates now caused by the geometric cutouts placed so that they look like they will topple or shift. The negative spaces full of possibility provide spaces for the viewers eyes to rest before moving into the next texture, color, or image. It is my hope that in showing the works of Steckle, his collages allow somebody else to have a moment of pause while accepting that life is ever changing and moving.