Interview by Nina Pak for Hathor Sisters Women's Artist Collective

Following is an interview by British Columbia-based artist Nina Pak for Hathor Sisters, an online women's artist collective.

Hathor's Tribe: Who is your muse, who inspires you?
Steiner: I wouldn't say that I have a muse per se, though I do sometimes feel presences or energies with me when I work…subtle flows of color, light, sound and emotion that feel like they are imprinted with the resonances of distant places and times and people. I might call them muses, or collections of information, or echoes in time that leave behind impressions in my consciousness and in my work. They are intangible, but they feel very clear and present at times.
I think I'd be accurate in saying, however, that the natural world, the water, the sky, the land, is really my primary muse. Not any literal or particular landscape—I don't consider myself a landscape painter, though I incorporate elements of landscape into my work—but the deeper essence of the natural world, the breakdown of its parts, its internal geometry. I grew up in rural northern California, very close to nature, and as a kid my love for nature was so deep that it was like a longing, almost painful. My work, I think, grows out of that; on some level, it's an effort to relieve that longing, to get inside of nature, to engage with it, to merge with it. Of course, within this desire, there is always the deeper desire to know my own nature, to experience my own being in a pure, unencumbered way. Painting allows me to do that; it relieves me of the everyday suffering of the mind, and it fulfills my desire to get inside of what is dynamic and beautiful and meaningful about being alive.

Hathor's Tribe:  Are you a visual artist, writer, musician or film maker?
Steiner: I'm a visual artist—a painter. That's what I do, that's my main gig. But I also love music--I sing and play guitar--and I'm something of a writer. I worked as a writer for a number of years, actually, and got my graduate degree in creative writing. I've found that I'm happier, though, more adept, more fulfilled, more comfortable dwelling in the mind of the painter. The painter has to hang out in a pre-linguistic space, in a simultaneous space (the painter can see all of her creation at one time), and there's something about that that is so sweet, so liberating, so humane. I am also not particularly interested in telling stories, which, as you can imagine, can be problematic for a writer. Even as a painter, I avoid narrative in my work, preferring to communicate in more abstract visual language that, at least to me, feels truer, closer to the bone. Painting allows me to more directly express the quiet, subtle moments in life when time slows down, when stories stop…these are the moments that interest me most.

Hathor's Tribe: Do you plan out your work before you do it, or does it evolve organically?
Steiner: Very rarely do I plan my work. I tend to work on impulse, to feel the art in my body first…in my solar plexus or throat or chest…and I allow it to gestate, to percolate. I usually work on a large number of pieces at a time—as many as 30 or 40 at once—and I move around from piece to piece, depending on what is calling me. My process reminds me a little of the way the surfers here in Santa Cruz go out to the beach and sit in their trucks and study the waves for long periods of time. Then, something clicks, and they go into the water. That's kind of what I do. I sit with the paintings—even if they're just blank canvases—till something clicks, then I go into the water.

Hathor's Tribe: Is there a mental process? Do you have a question to ask or answer?
Steiner: I feel like in my creative process there's a nexus point—a hub of consciousness where the mental, emotional, physical and ethereal meet…and the inspiration tends to move from the ethereal, through that hub, down the arms, through the hands and paintbrush, onto the canvas. Within that mysterious process, the conceptual or mental is somehow present—I have general ideas and themes that play out, over and over—for example, I have a very real concern for the state of the Earth; I also have a deep craving to connect with the anonymous women artisans who came before me, who gathered together in sewing circles, and worked so intimately with textile design and pattern and ornamentation. But ideas, issues, themes, they never really come first. Like I don't sit down in my studio and think "I'm going to connect with my ancestors today" or "I'm going to express my concern over the fact that we're abusing the planet." Not because I don't want to sometimes, but because it just doesn't seem to work for me; it's putting the cart before the horse. I think there are a lot of artists out there who are really good at starting from the conceptual, and I truly admire them and sometimes envy them. For me, I seem to have to surrender to approaching my work as a process of studying and engaging and playing with the basic building blocks of the physical world…color, form, material, etc.

Hathor's Tribe: Do you use the creative process to express your internal conflicts or to purge yourself of emotions?
Steiner: I'd say so, yes, not really consciously, but more alchemically, in an experiential way. Art is a discipline; it's a devotional practice and a commitment. There's something about showing up in the studio, rain or shine, whatever's happening in my life, that is just profoundly comforting. I can bring the deepest sorrows of my life to the table, and the art will eventually transmute them. The flip-side of that is that I can't hide from my sorrows, my conflicts, my shadow, because the creative process doesn't allow lying or hiding. It's constantly cleaning house on the psyche, both personally, and for the collective, the ancestors, the rocks and trees and all the rest. The creative process has a graceful way of touching the deepest, most painful wounds. It brings existential comfort, somehow speaks to those unanswerable, fundamental questions about the nature of reality that can't ever really be answered.

Hathor's Tribe: If so, do you feel that art can be a kind of therapy?
Steiner:  Without question; I think art is inherently therapeutic, and there's no way around that. Of course, its value as therapy and its aesthetic value are not necessarily related. The merit of art therapy is in its healing or cathartic effect on the individual. Fine art has to stand on different criteria, on its own artistic merit.

Hathor's Tribe: What is your opinion about the current art movements which focus on dark imagery?
Steiner: That's an interesting question, and something I've actually pondered quite a lot, because so many of the best, most compelling young artists are working with some very dark imagery, and I love so much of their work. All I can say is it's here and it's happening, and, like all expression, it's got to be on some level a reflection of the inner worlds and conflicts of the people expressing it. And let's face it, to be alive on planet Earth today means confronting on some level the absurd dream of the apocalypse that humanity seems to be addicted to dreaming now. So…from that perspective, it should be no surprise that dark imagery is showing up in art these days. I don't know…I think about the R. Crumb model…that art can be a kind of exorcism of internal demons. I agree with this idea and know from first-hand experience that it's true. And yet, there's a place where, at least from my perspective, very dark imagery in art has become too fashionable for its own good, and can be (though it certainly is not always) a bit unimaginative or repetitive. I have a perpetual craving to see art that I've never seen before, to see art that is brave and innovative and fiercely honest. Just as overly sentimental art fails to tell the truth because it hides from the shadow, relentlessly dark imagery fails to tell the truth, because it denies light. Both fail because the nature of reality is that light and dark are in a constant, dynamic interplay, that they are gradually, inevitably part and parcel of the other, connected as they are by infinite gradations of gray. It's the yin-yang thing. You can't avoid it.

Hathor's Tribe: Do you make art for yourself, or do you have a market in mind?
Steiner: I make what comes through. I don't seem to have it in my nature to do otherwise.
Hathor's Tribe: Do you believe that art has a higher purpose, other than to decorate a room? if so, please explain?
Steiner: I'm not sure I would say I believe that it has a higher purpose, because I don't really know for sure, and my believing in an idea doesn't really have much bearing on reality anyway. But I would say that in my heart of hearts I feel that art is necessary...for our psyches, for our sanity. I read somewhere that the ancient Hebrew nomadic tribes, when they'd find a place in the desert where they intended to set up camp, would take a tent stake, called an "ameyn" and ritualistically ram it into the ground, claiming it as their own, literally grounding themselves in that place with the proclamation of that word. "Ameyn" is of course "amen", a word commonly used to 'stake' prayers into reality, into time and space. To me, art is like that amen or tent stake going into the ground; it's what we use to ground ourselves into the meaning of our lives, to remind ourselves and to proclaim that we are in fact transcendent and eternal slips of light—intangible souls—navigating the Earth plane at a certain point in time. Without art, we drift into states of spiritual and social anomie…we lose ourselves in our infinite nature, we lose our minds. Art gives us a place to be, a way to define ourselves.

Hathor's Tribe: If you could meet any artist from the past who would it be?
Steiner: There would be so many…but if I had to choose one, I would probably say John Lennon, because his music and life and death are so viscerally and emotionally intertwined with the events of my life. Other artist/heroes/great souls from the past whom I would like to meet: Gertrude Stein, Georgia O'Keefe, Pablo Neruda, Theresa of Avila, Einstein, Mother Mary, Carl Jung, Richard Brautigan, Margaret Mead, Joseph Campbell, and so many more...

Hathor's Tribe: In what way do you want to be remembered?
Steiner: I can say I'd like to be remembered for my work, but really, my greatest hope would be that there are people thriving on a healthy Earth a thousand years from now, people who have long since forgotten me, because they've got more important things on their minds, like loving their children, and taking care of the planet.

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