Face the chaos

Julie Steiner

Some of Julie Steiner’s paintings in her home studio.

Some of Julie Steiner’s paintings in her home studio.

Photo By Lauren Randolph

For more information, visit www.juliesteinerart.com

In some ways, writing this article makes me feel guilty. It’s not because Julie Steiner’s artwork is bad, but because Julie Steiner enjoys her anonymity. I’m not helping.

When I asked her why she even agreed to an interview, she pleaded, “I don’t know why! I’ve tried to think about why!”

Neither most of her friends nor her own mother are aware that she has been actively painting and pursuing a career as an artist for the last three years. Her husband and her children know, but only a handful of other people in the Reno area know. However, her work has been featured in exhibits across the country and in France, Canada and Spain. Her art was also featured in Juxtapoz magazine’s weekly reader art section. It’s like she’s leading a double life.

Hardly any of her work has been exhibited in the Reno area. I found her on Myspace.com. (And, if she ever hits it big, I’m going to say I discovered her.) Her art calls for more exposure.

Steiner’s a mom on the go with three sons. She teaches art at Sparks Middle School—it’s a job that allows her to teach her students and see them enjoy art. Although she studied art in college, she had never actively pursued a career as an artist until March 6, 2005, almost four years ago. It was her birthday. At that point, she had just had twins; her life was chaotic and tiring. She picked up a paintbrush, set up a canvas and started painting.

She features the story on her website, Juliesteinerart.com, but doesn’t really know what moved her to start actively painting. “It was the moment I found myself again,” she writes. And as cheesy as that might sound, she continues to paint to this day.

“It was almost like a click,” she says. “I almost think that when I had those twins, my body went through some kind of total transition because I could not have done this before that.”

Because of that moment, Steiner sees her portrait paintings as symbols of change, of transformation. Looking at a series of her paintings, I noticed the transformations from painting to painting. She recently began painting female figures—a sign that she is more comfortable with her role as a mother and woman, she says. But, you wouldn’t know that offhand.

Steiner mostly paints her own particular type of person. She doesn’t have a name for them. Call them the faces. Each face has a unique, but consistent, expression: Powerful, but in their eyes, you can see weakness—a lost person.

“I kind of purposely make them look like they are tired and worn out,” says Steiner, “because that’s how I felt.”

You can imagine that each figure, either arched over with skeletal wings or with hallow cheeks, sees something different. And each one conveys that same subdued turmoil. The faces look as if they are made up of tiny pebbles or large rocks. The figures are painted with black outlines, making layers and layers that eventually connect to form the image of a person.

Steiner views her art nonchalantly, but it’s something that most people can connect with.

“My style is very chaotic but the lines give it the structure,” she says. “And my life is very chaotic, but I also am very structured. I have to be.”