Steven Lush, AWS, TWSA, ASMA

 

When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, I used to watch, transfixed, my artist mother paint in oil and draw in charcoal and pastel. I remember the smell of turpentine and oil and recall it being an exotic combination of fragrances that stay with me still.  She was quite informative too, explaining to me linear and aerial perspective or of how to place the eyes, nose and mouth in portrait drawing or applying color combinations for shading and tone, etc.. A lot of this flew right over my head but the movement of her hands and what happened at the tip of her fingers did not. When I grew a bit older, I began drawing cartoons and crazy figures I would conjure in my mind up while trying to look like I was paying attention in math and English grammar classes. Usually a well thrown spitball would wake me up, though! A junior high school friend of mine and I even developed a handwritten, once a month newspaper, he was the literary component, I the staff artist. We actually had a pretty good readership by Volume 4…..that being 3 of our mutual friends!

At some point in my early 20’s I had the unshakable urge to undertake to draw and paint but just for my own satisfaction. My eye hand coordination was always pretty good being able to hit fast balls pitched at me in baseball and later fast pitch softball. This faculty was further enhanced when I took up model ship building, something to this day I love but have little time for with my painting being my primary artistic outlet.

I visited the Addison Gallery of American Art at Andover, Phillips Academy, just a few miles from our North Andover (MA) home one fall day in 1991. There was an exhibition of the museum’s Winslow Homer watercolor collection that I had the chance to see. These paintings blew me away…..how could somebody be so fortunate to be able to move THAT medium around with those results? I was hooked and determined to give a go at this medium and to give it my best shot. Well….. I am still learning!

 

 

Watercolor, for me at least, is a medium that allows me to express my emotions for a particular subject matter, immediately. For a man that is essentially hyper, this works for me. I started off very tentatively, carefully applying the pigments within prescribed and carefully drafted pencil lines, etc., etc., etc. to the tune of complete and nauseating tedium! It was even more tedious to behold the finished works! But I guess one has to go through that stage especially with this medium that has a mind of its own. Years passed and looseness developed. An accomplished internationally acclaimed maritime artist once remarked to me that my watercolors actually LOOKED like watercolors! I took that compliment to heart!

Concurrent with the watercolor commitment I started dabbling in oil on canvas and pastels. Pastels were very gratifying, color wise, but I quickly became aware of the toxic dust hazards and laid this medium aside several years ago. I really couldn’t schedule putting on a facemask, gloves and full body armor BEFORE sitting in front of a blank piece of paper and several soft pastels.

 

 

Working in oils on stretched canvas or panels was fast becoming a medium that I could assimilate with like watercolor. And there again was that exotic combination of fragrances that was reminiscent of my childhood years watching my mom over her back while she was at her easel. At some point I found that there wasn’t enough time in a day or week to paint in either medium. I started trying to work exclusively in one or the other medium for a span of a few months at a time. I found that to be burdensome especially when a venue was requiring a painting or two in the medium that was in its “off time” as it were. Now I no longer work in either oil or watercolor for any given time period but just bounce back and forth as needed. This makes for a tad more untidy studio but I know where all my shit has been placed so it’s no big deal!

I have come to love and respect each medium and appreciate their strong points as well as their weaknesses. For me, it’s like cross training in athletics….I can applying watercolor techniques to my oils and vice versa. I find THAT to be a truly great asset for keeping (or trying to keep) works in either medium, fresh. Watercolor appeals to my spontaneous side where oils have that needed slowing down of time also required for my inner wellbeing.

So when asked “which do you prefer, watercolors or oils?” I have to say I love them both equally as much….like 2 of your kids, each uniquely different but each equally loved.


Is it clever, truthful or emotional? Is it all three or some combination of the three? I look at a lot of art but only a small percentage of it actually stirs any emotion in me. Why is that? I am not sure but I do know when my gut tells me that it has succeeded. There is much art work rendered what I call “cleverly” (is that a word?!). What I mean by that is that the artist has mastered some technique that is consistently incorporated into all or most of the work produced. This “cleverness” could even be categorized as “original”. It is, to some extent, but it can be overdone for the sake of truthfulness or emotive expression. All artists are “clever”, more or less, myself included. We all have some trick or two that we like to bring into our work because we know how to do it and we simply…..can do it! For me and my marine work, especially, when someone comments that they can smell the salt air or feel the sea breeze….. or even get seasick when looking at my work, well, that to me is the highest compliment with or without my “cleverness”!



I am always trying to put my emotions into my work in the medium I choose. Sometimes this works but a lot of the time it doesn’t quite cut it. I do have some “clever” techniques but I never want that to replace the emotive effect I am trying to convey. I do want truthfulness to be depicted and how that truthfulness has emotionally affected me. This is how I see art and allows me to embrace all genres executed with truthfulness, emotion and, yes…..”cleverness”!


 

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in my art work. Or perhaps you are really just trying to discover what makes this guy tick and to try and figure out exactly, ”How does he operate?” All valid questions for those that are arrested by art images plastered on various social media platforms, hung on gallery walls, art association walls, corporate spaces, restaurants, billboards and bar rooms! Just what the Devil are all these artists doing? Do they have homes, take vacations, pay college tuitions and the IRS. Are they happily married, like Trump or Hilary, are they fun to hang with, do they play golf, do they like sports, etc., etc. Believe it or not most of us are just like you or the guy sitting next to you reading the paper on the subway. So what makes us unique and have the drive (or the nerve) to create art work? This I can only answer in all honesty, for myself.

As I have said here in previous blogs (if you have read and remembered them) the sea and being in, on and around ships and boats got into my blood at an early age. I am always revisiting scenes that were seared into my memory years ago while at sea or in some far away port. I can remember seeing improbable red seas and green skies, large ships surfing down the face of even larger waves, dolphins swimming backwards with their noses almost touching our bow as we pressed through the Straits of Gibraltar at 17 knots heading back to New York City. I remember walking under my ship in a Philadelphia dry dock, my eyes fixed on a propeller at least 25’ in diameter. All these things eventually come out somewhere in a painting.



For the “nuts and bolts” part of painting, I may produce a working sketch if I need to work out some detail but for the most part I sketch out, in pencil, what I want to paint directly on the watercolor paper, mistakes and all, or with a piece of soft charcoal on a canvas and correct as I move into paint. I welcome mistakes and adjust and I don’t get too hung up on technicalities. With WC I either capitalize on the mistakes or chuck the paper out (or flip it over!). On canvas I keep working it, sometimes scrubbing out the whole lot and starting over again….but with all that “history” underneath as my artist wife, Nella, states!

I work in this way because when the image has worked itself out from my memory files and I have had time to paint and re-paint the subject in my mind, I no longer have the patience to proceed with careful deliberation as do some artists but rather, I can’t wait to get the image out of my system! Sometimes these works are successful but just as often, not. I use the ”nots”,  the rejects,  as it were, as fodder for the next work. Truthfully, I don’t do this because I need to, I do it because I am compelled to do so….and if you like the results, well, that’s even better!

Sure I have reference material. What artist doesn’t? Do I like to paint plein air? Sometimes to be sociable but getting to and from a location, setting up and breaking down and just the painting itself takes precious time that I would rather invest in my studio, my work space. I love doing this job! It is almost as enjoyable as being a seaman, a job that I truly loved years ago. I, too, am fortunate to be affiliated with galleries that allow me to do what I like and represent that work. This doesn’t happen too often.

So this is me. Is it what you figured? Does it really matter? Who cares?


What are we looking at here? Do you often wonder or hear this when looking at a work of art? I guess it really depends on your perceptions and what you consider art. For me it has always been that first impression, more appropriately, a compelling impression. When you first see a work of art, 2 or 3 dimensional, and depending upon your mood, background and thought process, you may or may not move in for a closer look. At least, that is what happens to me. That “compelling impression” in art seems to have its own gravitational pull and having the possibility of getting better the closer you get to it. There is something about originality too, that has its own allure.

 

There are many super realistic art works that I have placed in my list of favorites and as many abstract works as well. Just what is it that moves me? Sometimes it’s just too hard to say but when it happens I know the artist has succeeded at least with me.

 

I have been at this for many years and I hope that I continue to evolve because change is a mandatory ingredient for success. I take inspiration from many sources but I do end up always executing the work my way. It’s odd but I find that I dislike the term “pretty” or “beautiful” and even “nice” when someone describes my work. If I hear or see these terms or something similar I feel that perhaps I failed. And there are tons of “beautiful”, “pretty” and “nice” works out there and God bless those artists that produce them. You make yourselves and your admirers happy and this is good. Probably my goal is always to be unpredictable. I like that. Asymmetrical even better! Probably the most coveted compliment for me is evocative! That’s it. Enough said!





More often than not I hear, "Oh I just love your boat and ship paintings!" or something similar. One might ask (and rightly so), "What is up with THAT?!". In case you don't know, many years ago before tackling the goal of learning how to paint I was a merchant seaman. In fact, that is precisely what I went to school for at the Merchant Marine Academy in Massachusetts graduating in 1971. 

 

I find it somewhat perplexing that many Americans, at least, haven't a clue as what that profession is all about. Unlike England with its complete dependency on mastering sea trade and its historic counterpart of naval supremacy, our maritime heritage is really not so old or as profound. My years as a seagoing engineer working on freighters and tankers and even a couple of old tugboats were glorious years of excitement, lasting impressions and challenges.

 

Years later and to this day, after "coming ashore", getting married and starting a family I often reflect back on my days at sea or in port recalling many close calls, near misses or just those compelling impressions. All of that is fodder for artwork..... or writing. I tried writing but haven't the patience for the craft. I have built model ships and still do so but not as much anymore. That is an art/craft I can and do get lost in where hours pass quickly when working. You do need time for model shipbuilding.....much time! An average size model of museum quality can take easily 2000-3000 manhours of effort to complete. When you're all done they are a hard sell especially if you need compensation for the hours you expended!

 

So we have my marine art to consider. Much of this genre is truly boring or at best, tedious to ponder. I understand this and that much of the genre seems to lack any soul or feeling. A lot of it, too, is just plain "old hat".....I mean....how many clipper ships bounding through white foam sea or catboats sitting languidly in a protected cove can you really look at and get captivated? I have had experiences on the ships and tugs and even a salvage vessel that I wish to share with the unknowing public. My goal in all of this is to catch those eyes with my work not so much the maritime public per se. I want my marine artwork to please and to inform. Not just one or the other.

 

In order to express my experiences in my art and especially this genre I find that the choice of color, more than composition or any of the other artistic milestones, to be the single most critical component required in creating a successful work. This doesn't come easy! I have many discarded, used watercolor sheets and old canvases with unsuccessful work. These pieces just did not express my emotion correctly. I have produced studies that have had far more success than their follow up, full sized, full blown artworks! The used canvases can be gone over with new work but used and unsuccessful watercolor works are a "get it right the first time" deal (unless you flip the paper over to use the backside!....not recommended but I have done this in a pinch).

 

Occasionally, and more so of late, I have "wandered off the reservation", as it were, and executed work in oils and watercolors depicting city and country scenes, people and even flowers. Again, these works are based on compelling impressions and/or experiences I have visually absorbed. 

 


I don't have a large palette but use the primaries, red, blue and yellow intermixing to get all the color variations I need. I may introduce one or two new, none primary colors into a work but this is the exception not the norm. I find that there is an extreme sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in work that turns out successful and catches the eye(s) of somebody other than me! Most times "less is more" and with me, less colors means more freedom!


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