Originally appeared in the June 16, 2010 issue of the Klondike Sun
When I sat down to talk with Ilgvars Steins about his current exhibition at the Confluence Members’ Gallery at SOVA, intending to ask questions about the works on display, he immediately told me “if the work doesn’t speak for itself, then we are in trouble.” Here are the questions I asked him instead, in an attempt to stay out of trouble. –Megan Graham
MG: Did you enjoy working on this show with your son, John Steins?
IS: Absolutely! He’s my flesh and blood. It was the most natural thing in the world.
MG: Were there other artists in your family?
IS: All I can say was when my mother went to school she was very good in art, quite gifted. But she never gave me instructions. It was just inherited, genetics. When you grow up in this environment, you pick up things here and there.
MG: Did you ever want to pursue another career?
IS: I wanted to be an actor. It’s the highest, most influential art form there is. It has the most influence on the viewer. It’s the most direct way to convey expression onto people. With acting, the identification process is quite immediate. You can measure the influence by establishing how the sweat glands and tear ducts work on people. It never happens in an art exhibition. When something is all visual, the impact is more subtle and more indirect.
Music is very close. Music is harmonious sounds that may give you an emotional high. You can feels things that are not expressed any other way. We can do it in visual art—start with a line on a piece of paper, and from there you can express sadness, joy, or indifference. So you can draw a willow tree. It is referred to as a weeping willow. There’s something sad about that tree. You have made it look sad, but why not make it a joyful willow or an indifferent willow? You don’t have sound or smell or anything else. This is the possibility of a visual demonstration, of what we feel and what we want to convey to the viewer. The feeling of sadness can go into a line, into tone, color, and other embellishments. You cannot go further. It is our handicap. Art is limited.
MG: How has your time been in Dawson?
IS: Voltaire has a simple statement: “Paradise is where I am.” You make it yourself. You don’t have to ask or wait for divine influence or interference. You make your own world as your go along. You shape your own life as you go. Don’t wait for misery. Enjoy every moment as it evolves. Enjoy the life given to you. What’s in your way? I consider myself very lucky in where I am and what I do. There are no obstacles or hindrances to activities.
MG: What inspires you?
IS: Sometimes I have ideas beforehand. It may be that I’m about to fall asleep, and some image comes to the surface. You get up and make it or retain it for the next day. You may be amazed by what inspires you. A newsclipping or small reproduction could give you the whole idea.
MG: What do you hope viewers will get out of your show?
IS: Matisse, with his beautiful color schemes, once said something to the effect of “I want my pictures to give the feeling to the viewer that he’s sitting in a comfortable armchair.” I would aim a little higher. I’d like emotional movement of some kind, a reaction. If it happens or not, I can still hope. Wait for the work to speak to you.