Ben Steele is an artist, educator and community organizer living in Atlanta, GA. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis, Yale University and Maryland Institute College of Art before moving to Atlanta to pursue a career in the arts. His oil paintings have been displayed at many galleries locally and nationally, in addition to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and the High Museum of Art. His recent oil painting series “The Shape of Things to Come” is inspired by futuristic architecture, special effects cinematography and the historical practice of landscape painting. Steele is co-founder of SeekATL, an artist studio visit group that meets monthly, with the goal of connecting Atlanta’s artists, and also coordinates the Working Artist Project studio visits with MOCA GA. Steele is Visual Art Department Chair at The Westminster Schools.
My work is inspired by futuristic architecture, special effects cinematography and historical landscape painting. These paintings are based upon models, built in the studio, with projected landscape imagery serving as backdrops.
I am drawn to the utopian ideals put forth in futuristic architecture. The future is never here. The forms that I build refer to futurism in multiple times and places in our world’s history. They also appear to be in a state of ruin. I am interested in how representing ideas of the future from the past creates a tension and feeling of displacement in time.
What initially compelled you to pursue art?
A good teacher was what prompted me to have the believe in myself to become an artist. That along with the innate desire or need to create that told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.
Who or what in your life influences your practice the most?
I am heavily influenced by art, culture and stories. In particular, science fiction and futurism—those who imagine possible worlds. Architecture is a huge point of reference, as well as inventions, astrology and changes in the earth’s history. Special effects and cinematography, and the understanding that all illusions can be traced back to a physical origin.
What do you feel is the key concept that connects your works?
Through many works there is a relationship drawn between earthly concerns and those visible above. Searchlights, rainbows, fireworks and comets serve as backdrops, indicating a quest for knowledge, redemption, disaster or celebration. Contemporary concerns involving space exploration, rising water levels and natural disasters feel of the moment, yet possess a deep reach back through human imagination.
Tell us about a moment that ultimately made you look at your art and/or practice differently.
Living through the COVID-19 shutdown made me realize how much of what we feel is normal could disappear in an instant. That in fact our entire lives have been a blip in the history of our planet. All of a sudden, I began thinking about my art in relation to all of human history, construction, imagination … and much less about what I, in this moment, am saying. Ironically, these past forms feel as relevant as ever, and I felt my art became far more personal through this process.
What does your art give you that nothing else can?
Art is a world, a community, a belief system. A faith in the best of us and a hard microscope to analyze what is not. The universe inhabited by my paintings is carefully balanced between optimism and ruin. All of time collapses, [simultaneously] combining both a sense of humanity’s greatest moments of ingenuity and that we are subject to fate and a world which returns us to a state of entropy. I feel connected to all things.