Huffpost Arts

Mental Patient's Hybrid Drawings Will Haunt Your Dreams

Posted: Updated:

Charles Steffen was studying drawing, art history, and photography at the Illinois Institute of Technology when he suffered a mental breakdown in 1950. For the next 15 years Steffen lived in a mental hospital, undergoing electroshock therapy for schizophrenia while compulsively making art.

2013-08-06-C_CAB179319.jpg
Charles Steffen. A Little Nude Resting, 1990

Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

When Steffen was released he continued his obsessive creations, drawing between one and three works a day, mostly on brown wrapping paper. Steffen's drawings are as delicate as they are grotesque, depicting melting hybrids of nudes sprouting sunflower heads. His alien creatures all exist in a state of metamorphosis -- somewhere between infancy and old age, male and female, plant and animal. This obsession with transformation likely sprung from Steffen's own state of constant fluctuation between illnesses and vices -- he was addicted to both alcohol and tobacco.

2013-08-06-C_CAB179164.jpg
Charles Steffen. Sunflower Nude, Standard pose, 1994

Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

Throughout his lifetime Steffen created thousands of drawings, most of which he would roll up, tape and store in his basement. Yet Steffen was so prolific his sister feared the excess of stored works would incite a fire and destroyed most of them. To this day the only works by Steffen that remain were those crafted between 1989 and his death in 1995, of which there are over 2,000.

2013-08-06-C_CAB179162.jpg
Charles Steffen. Standing Male Nude, 1992.
Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

Forty of Steffen's drawings are currently on view at the Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne, many of which focus on one of his most iconic motifs, the "Sunflower Nude." His drawn bodies bulge, ooze and morph with both maternal and monstrous implications, creating a singular world that will out-imagine your strangest dreams.

Charles Steffen's work will show until September 29, 2013. Let us know your thoughts on his outsider visions in the comments.

2013-08-06-C_CAB179170.jpg
Charles Steffen. Mother and Child, Sunflower Nude, 1994.
Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

2013-08-06-C_CAB179264.jpg
Charles Steffen. One of two Seated Nudes, 1992
.
Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

2013-08-06-C_CAB179165.jpg
Charles Steffen. Development of the Sunflower Nude, from the One-Eyed Nude into a Sunflower, 1994

Photo : Atelier de numérisation - Ville de Lausanne . Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne

Outside the Lines" is an ongoing series addressing the prickly genre sometimes referred to as outsider art.

Suggest a correction