By Robert Frolla


Brunswick Street Gallery is currently exhibiting the work of Steven Makse, a mid-career Western Australian artist.


The three-time Black Swan Prize for Portraiture finalist’s exhibition, ‘Known Unknowns’, is showing oil paintings exclusively. The exhibition features a number of portraits, landscapes and still lifes.


Coming from a background in graphic design and illustration, Steven uses digital photography and screen-printing in his work to highlight contemporary life and the existential divides that underlie humanity.



#firstworldproblems (Oil on linen, 101 x 111cm)


“My art is often characterised by an underlying existential observation on contemporary life, death and the space in between,” Steven says.


“The varied conceptual nature of each artwork demands a diversity of image-making techniques, which goes some way to explaining the range of style I use as a visual artist.”


Though his current artistic inspiration comes out in oil paintings, his 2013 exhibition, ‘Friend or Faux’, is his only exhibition to feature screen prints, mosaic tiles and QR codes.


“All my shows have been mainly full of oil paintings, with [the] exception of Friend or Faux, which only had screen-printing and glass tile mosaics.” Steven notes.


“These were all portraits based on QR codes. My self portrait, ‘Selfie’, was created after those works, so these definitely influenced my recent paintings, although I haven’t done any more QR code-based works.”



Selfie (Oil on canvas, 84 x 84cm)


However, ‘Known Unknowns’ came about from Steven’s wish to move away from a photo-realist style into something more expressive.


“In the past I’d really been trying to paint in a photo-realist style for some reason, but I’ve realised I wasn’t even sure why, especially when I really prefer looking at more gestural expressive works, like the French impressionists,” he says.


“I decided to follow what I felt like painting, rather than doing what I thought I should. To make paintings that look like paintings, rather than photos.”


“I’m not a full-time artist unfortunately, so limited time is also an issue for me. Paintings that are looser in style take less time to create.”


Although Steven’s art focuses on many contemporary subjects, these do not come automatically to him when beginning a new work. For Steven, making art is not about finding a particular subject or theme and “repeating it ad infinitum.”


“Every painting begins as a ‘known unknown’; that is, I know that I don’t know how it will end.”



Known Unknowns (Oil on board, 30 x 25cm)


‘Known Unknowns’ will be running until Thursday 4 August.


You can check out Steven’s other art at his website. You can also follow him on Facebook and Instagram.


Robert edits for The Northsider and Phantasmagoria Magazine, and is a freelance editor for Busybird Publishing.

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