Michael Stevens, American (1942 - 1989)

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens aligns the comedic and sinister and the crude and refined in his mixed-media, wood sculpture and reliefs. These works are invested with the artist’s attraction to dark comedy and irony, notorious aspects of his personality that, despite disclaimers and protestations, cannot disguise this artist’s zest for life. Growing up in the 1950s before the family television set, he was captivated by the dichotomy of seemingly three-dimensional images contained within a flat screen. Telecasts of slapstick cartoons, local children’s programming, and somber stories on the evening news delivered both whimsical and meaningful narratives directly into the family living room. The impact of this programming had a profound influence on Stevens from an early age and continues to inform his work today.

Simultaneously serious and satirical, Stevens’s work presents ever-fluid juxtapositions of good and evil, innocence and guilt, comedy and horror.

Many of his pieces combine natural branches and twigs, often with wood left raw and bark intact. That which Stevens actually “sculpts” may be either painted or left unfinished. The incongruity between the natural golden sheen of the carved pine and the glossy, enameled surfaces (reminiscent of ventriloquists’ dummies and children’s toys) brings new tension and variety to the familiar medium.

Stevens also incorporates found objects into his work. His favorite “ready-mades” are found at the thrift-store, where he culls art reproductions of Old Masters and more recent artists to add depth and drama to his sculptures. Subjects included verdant landscapes, picturesque barnyard scenes, decorative still lifes, and stately portraits. Stevens then paints over, cuts into, “pops out,” and otherwise commands new ownership of the hackneyed Pictures, elevating to the realm of fine art that which was formerly its antithesis.

These backdrops serve to bring depth to Stevens’s pieces and provide his sculpted figures a place to inhabit. In Stevens’s wall-mounted pieces, the panels act as theatrical stage sets. Akin to puppet theater, or early television performances acted out before painted scenery, both background and foreground scenes erupt into chaos. Characters painted into the background run out onto the shallow stage of the piece to unite fore and aft with color and imagery. Such spatial artifice became imbedded in the artist’s psyche early on and has permeated his work for more than two decades. In Stevens’s freestanding work, figures act out equally comic or disturbing activities. Here, the artist relies only on sculptural elements to tell the tale, not upon illusionistic “painted” surfaces.

Stevens’s sculptures are never as familiar or charming as they may seem. More often than not, these “innocents” find themselves in compromising situations that heighten the chill implicit in the narrative. His sculptures also seem to express dismay at America’s loss of innocence since the 1950s, paralleling his own emergence as an artist and his continually evolving perceptions.

In looking to the past, Stevens leverages youth’s inherent uncertainty for the future. Indeed this “coming of age” is a recurrent theme in his work. In endeavoring to trace the human condition, Stevens has turned to a specific moment in time, offering viewers a glimpse of how he as an artist, and by extension American culture, has changed.

(Condensed Version)
Scott A. Shields, Chief Curator,
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California
November 2004

With contributions from Elizabeth Adan and Diana Daniels

Selected Exhibitions
2014 Home: Shelter and Habitat in Contemporary Art, Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon
University, Ashland, Oregon.
Good Dog! Art of Man’s Best Friend
Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CA.
2013 The Seven Year Itch, JAYJAY, Sacramento, CA.
Home: Shelter and Habitat in Contemporary Art, Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, CA.
Knock on Wood, Kondos Gallery, Sacramento City College, Sacramento, CA.
2012 Flatlanders on the Slant: 50 Artists Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Slant Step,
Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA.
Toy Stories 2, William Havu Gallery, Denver, CO.
Toy Stories, The Canyon Gallery, Boulder Public Library, Denver, CO.
2011-2012 Looking At Me Looking At You, Gatehouse Gallery, di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA.
2011 Now and Then, JAYJAY, Sacramento,CA.
Toy Stories, William Havu Gallery, Denver, CO.
In The Studio, Public Artists in Their Private Spaces, Sacramento International Airport–
Terminal B, Sacramento, CA.
Totems & Plates, Blue Line Gallery, Roseville, CA.
2010 Flatlanders 3, A Regional Roundup, Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA.
Tomorrow’s Legacies: Gifts Celebrate the Next 125 Years, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Exquisite Corpse, Archival Framing, Sacramento, CA.
Ruth’s World, Selected Works from Braunstein/Quay Gallery,
California Bank of Commerce, Lafayette, CA.
The Braunstein/Quay Gallery: 1961 to the Present, Cabrillo College Gallery, Aptos, CA.
2009 Michael Stevens: One Act Plays, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
2008 Eccentric Imagery, Blue Line Gallery, Roseville, CA.
Play Time, Sacramento International Airport, Terminal B, Sacramento, CA.
Against The Grain, Lois Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, CA.
2006 His & Hers, JAYJAY, Sacramento, CA.
Artful Jesters, Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.
2005 Art from Adeliza’s Candy Store, Folsom History Museum, Folsom, CA.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Stellar Art From Area Collections, Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.
2004 Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay, San Francisco.
2003 Knock on Wood: Sculpture by Michael Stevens, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Revealing Influences: Conversations with Bay Area Artists, Museum of Craft Folk Art,
San Francisco, CA.
2002 Visual Perspectives: 14 Years of the Virginia A. Groot Awards, Groot Foundation Space and SOFA Chicago at Navy Pier, Chicago, IL.
2001 Mr. & Mrs., Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, Else Gallery, California State University, Sacramento.
2000 Cats and Dogs, Jean Albano Gallery, Chicago, IL.
Trashformations: Recycled Materials in Contemporary American Art and Design, The Metropolitan State College of Denver, Center for the Visual Arts, Denver, CO.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1999 Altered: The Animal in Contemporary Art, The Museum of Art and History at The McPherson Center, Santa Cruz, CA.
1998 Sculptural Perspectives for the New Millennium, The LEF Foundation, St. Helena, CA.
Mr. & Mrs., Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, CA.
Trashformations: Recycled Materials in Contemporary American Art and Design, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN.; Museum of the Southwest, Midland, TX.; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH; Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR.
1997 Hello Again: A New Wave of Recycled Art and Design, Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Trashformations: Recycled Materials in Contemporary American Art and Design, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1995 National Objects Invitational, The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR.
1994 Here and Now, Bay Area Masterworks from the di Rosa Collections, Great Hall High Bay, Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
The Michael Himovitz Gallery, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1993 Mr. & Mrs.: New Works by Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, Michael Himovitz Gallery, Sacramento, CA.
1992 From the Studio: Recent Painting and Sculpture By 20 California Artists, Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Discovery! Contemporary California Narratives, American Cultural Center, Brussels, Belgium and Himovitz/Miller Gallery, Pavilions, Sacramento, CA.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1990 California Eccentrics, Illini Union Art Gallery, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. IL.
Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan: A Survey, Memorial Union Gallery, University of California, Davis.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Ovsey Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
Against the Grain: Contemporary Wood Sculpture, Oliver Art Center, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA.
1989 Narratives in Wood, Redding Art Museum, Redding, CA.
Artists from the Braunstein/Quay Gallery, Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, CA.
What the Music Looks Like, Michael Himovitz Gallery, Sacramento, CA.
Animal Show, Transamerica Pyramid Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
1988 Animal Imagery, Susan Cummins Gallery, Mill Valley, CA.
The Dog Show, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
In the Folk Tradition: Contemporary Wood Sculpture, Mitchell Museum, Mt. Vernon, IL.
CSUS Forty Years of Art, Robert Else Gallery, California State University, Sacramento and The William H. Cook Gallery, Rancho Cordova, CA.
Wood Sculpture/Seven Contemporary Artists from the Sacramento Area, Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA.
1987 Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, Richard H. Reynolds Gallery, University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA.
Busts, Betsy Rosenfield Gallery, Chicago, IL.
1986 Mixed Media, Evanston Art Center, Evanston, IL.
Fetishes, Burpee Art Museum, Rockford, IL.
Fine Wood, Euphrat Gallery, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA.
Contemporary American Wood Sculpture, Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL; The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA.
1985 Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM.
Menagerie, San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA.
Works in Wood: A Survey of Contemporary Sculpture, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey, CA.
Contemporary American Wood Sculpture, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ; Sunrise Museum, Charleston WV; Florida International University Visual Arts Gallery, Miami, FL.
1984 Contemporary American Wood Sculpture, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Political Cartoons and Other Opinions, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1983 The Slant Step Revisited, Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis and The San Francisco Art Commission Gallery.
1982 Northern California: Focus on the Figure, Brentwood Gallery II, St. Louis, MO.
Bay Area Figurative Sculpture, Transamerica Pyramid Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
California Connections: Sacramento State College, The Early ’70′s, Joseph Chowning Gallery, San Francisco and Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Laguna Beach, CA.
1981 Works in Wood, Morgan Gallery, Shawnee Mission, KS.
Humor in Art, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA.
Welcome to the Candy Store, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
New Talent, Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York, NY.
Sculpture Invitational, Alaska State Arts Council. Traveled to Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, AK.
The Animal Image: Contemporary Objects and the Beast, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
1980 Painted Sculpture, Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA.
Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, Tempo Gallery, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
1979 Animals: Celebration and Communion, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park; Alan Hancock College, Santa Maria; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose; Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.
Humor in Northern California, Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA.
New Wood Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
Group Exhibition, Monique Knowlton Gallery, New York, NY.
New Wood Sculpture from the West, Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, IL.
1978 Artists Working in Wood, Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA.
1977 The Downtown Dog Show, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.
Beauty of the Beast: Animal Images in Contemporary Art, Kohler Arts Center, Shebogan, WI.
Group Show, Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill, CA.
1976 Candy Store Gallery Artists, American River College Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA.
1975 Fifty Years of Crocker Kingsley, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
1972 Sacramento Valley Show, E. Walters Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA.
1971 Small Objects Show, E. Walters Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA.
1970 Young Bay Area Sculptors, E. Walters Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA.


Awards

2000 Distinguished Service Award, Sponsored by the CSUS Alumni Association.
1999 Sculpture Fellowship, Virginia Groot Foundation, Evanston, IL.
1998 Individual Artist Fellowship, California Arts Council.
1982 James D. Phelan Award in Art for Sculpture, Walnut Creek Civic Arts Gallery.
Sponsored by The San Francisco Foundation.


Public Art Projects

2006 Commission, Kaiser Permanente, Lincoln, CA.
2003 Public Art Commission, California Department of Health Services,
East End Complex, State of California, Sacramento, CA.
1988 Public Art Commission, Cherry Island Golf Course, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

Public Collections

C.S.C. Index, San Francisco, CA.
di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA.
Fulcrum, Sacramento, CA.
Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Kidder, Peabody & Co., New York, NY.
Lexecon Corporation, Chicago, IL.
Livingston & Mattesich, Sacramento, CA.
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Persis Corporation, Honolulu, HI.
Squadron Press, Kansas City, MO.
Trumpette, Sacramento, CA.
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
California State University, Sacramento Permanent Collection.

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