Art/Culture Featured

The Life and Times of Oil

by Nina Clevinger

jeremy_ok-18-of-18“Do you want a beer, or a water, or something?” He asked, lowering the volume on his TV and grabbing a seat on the couch across from me. SpongeBob is playing on the television. “I’m Jeremy, by the way. This is my studio.” 

Jeremy Steffen is a 25-year-old realist painter, sculptor, and creative located in Chicago. He currently lives above the Tonic Room, a bar in Lincoln Park known particularly well for being extremely haunted. 

Steffen has been painting for much of his life, but never really knew what he wanted to do with it. That is, until he discovered oil. 

“Everything became clear when I found oil,” he said. “Something about it is in me.” 

Oil painting is a dying art, according to Steffen. Today, contemporary art is all the rage. Steffen finds it strange that nobody really seems to care about reviving and keeping alive the classical art movement, even though it’s all we learned about growing up in school. 

jeremy_ok-13-of-18“I’m [painting] because it’s dying, not because it’s striving,” said Steffen. “People have lost the idea of technical things… things that have been growing forever. I think it’s important to keep them alive.”

His paintings are incredible. They depict the people he is closest to in life, as he finds it impersonal and kind of wrong to try painting a picture of somebody who he does not know personally and therefore isn’t necessarily passionate about in a way that reads across in his work. He said he tried to paint Johnny Depp once, and it just wasn’t working for him. When he paints friends, lovers, family… that’s when the magic happens. That’s when the painting becomes a person in itself. 

Right now, Steffen is working on a project based on opposing colors and their separations. He starts with two colors opposite each other on the color wheel, and works with his mediums to capture their coming together and their tearing apart. It’s something the human eye doesn’t necessarily realize is happening, and so for him to break it down and paint it out is extremely interesting to see. 

Steffen also has a passion for creating sculptures out of random objects and ideas. 

“I’ve found I’m really good at making my ideas come to life,” he said. 

jeremy_ok-11-of-18One of these crazy ideas is a sculpture he has hanging on the wall above his living room couch, something we spent the day referring to as “The Creature.” It’s still technically unnamed, as Steffen knows the name will just come to him one day, when the time is right. 

“The Creature” is a mix of many animals, including frog, fish, tiger and deer. It’s stuffed and patchy and cool as hell. It’s mounted and awaiting its official name, overlooking the entire apartment from its perch between the windows. 

When Steffen isn’t creating, he’s networking, binge-watching shows – Stranger Things is his latest – and listening to all types of music. His favorites of the moment are Waldeck, Wax Tailor, and Gramatik. He also does tattoos on the side, another art form within itself. Steffen is a modern-day Renaissance Man, using his talents and passions to create an abundance of things for an abundance of people. 

“Honestly, I just want to show people a different side of reality,” he said. “I try to show people what you can do with this medium that is out of the realm of normal.” 

Steffen will continue to paint forever, and hopes to one day teach others at a college level. To him, teaching is just as important as creating. It is the way in which we learn, collaborate and form our own techniques and ideas based off those of our mentors. 

“Oil is a living thing,” said Steffen. “I want to keep it alive.”

View Steffen’s Work Gallery

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