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Natural Awakenings Tucson

An Artistic Point of View

Jul 31, 2015 10:29PM ● By Dale Bruder

Old Main 1891, by Steven Bye

Drawing on his many years as an art teacher, Steven Bye embraced the infotainment model of transferring knowledge. Twenty-five years ago, he advised a student struggling with a creative block to imagine Picasso on a skateboard. “I was always faced with the challenge of finding new ways to inspire my students. One way that seemed to work most often was adding some type of adventure to the subject at hand,” recalls Bye, a retired school teacher. His outside-the-box thinking approach set off a cascade of ideas that manifested decades later in his book, Vincent in Tucson.

Portraying Vincent Van Gogh convalescing from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890s Tucson, surrounded by the Wild West, takes a leap of faith. Yet isn’t that what fictions do; ask us to suspend belief? Bye applied the literary device to break out of the intellectualism of art theory, opening the doors of perception. His method uses historical personalities, cultural history, science and art technique in a fantasy narrative.

Ironically, publishing Vincent in Tucson caused the need for a creative piece as evidence of the episode. Bye followed the publication with 33 paintings of the southwest in the Van Gogh style, all of which have sold. To take this fun further, he was commissioned to produce two portraits of Albert Einstein in the Van Gogh style.

The fantasy was promoted with Borderlands Brewing Company producing a batch of Van Gogh beer and a YouTube video that transports the viewer into an art salon cocktail party flush with witty banter. Bye immersed himself in the Van Gogh universe, noting that the artist—famous for never selling a painting in his lifetime—has become a pop culture figure. Bye’s contribution has been described as “Quentin Tarantino meets Forrest Gump”.

As curator of the art hanging on the brick walls of Borderlands Brewing Company, Bye has become a fixture himself. Bye’s eye for “good art that never grows old” is evident in the populated brick walls of the former warehouse. Artists of every style present paintings, inks and assemblages with panache.

The school teaching years behind him, Bye began assimilating his experience and wisdom. After five years of writing and rewriting, with his wife, Nancy, editing, Vincent in Tucson was released in November 2013. The paintings followed, and momentum continues to build with his self-directed book tour, retracing paths he’s traveled before. August and September will take him up the Pacific coast to San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and western Lake Michigan shore towns of Grand Haven and Montague, and in the Great Plains, Lawrence, Kansas.

On August 8, Bye has a show at the Moonglow Art Gallery, in La Jolla, California, called “Surfing with the Masters”, in which he uses surfboards as canvases for variations on classics from Hopper, Da Vinci, Munch, Klimt, Van Gogh and others. The curved shape and rounded edges of the 10-foot-long boards stretches the images obliquely, and re-purposing the boards salvaged a past into an expressive future.

Bye’s artistic point of view is a romantic notion of loss, recovery and redemption. His path was a winding road, growing up in a family moving from state to state, always the new kid—the loner who entertained himself by drawing, wandering the byways and boulevards on a motorcycle with a paint kit on his back, losing idealism to the proforma life of paying the bills until he settled into a groove that shaped him.

On the classic quest to find his artistic niche, an especially suitable place to come from, Bye recalled an art school assignment: “Paint this vase of flowers like Van Gogh would.” Long after the class had ended, into the night, he finished portraying the image. The encounter broke through creative frustration and gave him wisdom he would later share with his students. Only in hindsight can we know what made us who we are. Bye’s talent to harvest his lessons and gift of sharing deepens connections that never grow old.

For more information about Bye and his art works, email [email protected], find StevenByeArtworks on Facebook or search Vincent in Tucson on YouTube.

Dale Bruder is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect at [email protected].