09/07/2012 12:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Painter's Life


I was traveling, somewhat reluctantly, last month, and turning on my cell phone as the wheels touched the ground, I read an email informing me of the sudden death of a friend the night before. He had not been in particularly poor health, so the news was quite unexpected, but somewhere underlying the suddenness and jolt of loss I felt some immediate reassurance of the wholeness, fullness, rightness, of his life and work.

Steve possessed the gift of being himself, and that gift became ours in every interaction.

He was a painter, a very good one, I'm sure you don't know him, and he won't be widely known. He was known only to those who knew and saw him every day (it was a remarkable number people he touched -- in the days after his passing, many, dozens of people told me how they had just spoken to him, how he had taken so much time to talk). Though he did manage to put up a website, his work as a painter was best known to those who saw his paintings in person, which is as paintings are meant to be seen.

His work was encompassing and powerful, almost elementally raw, sometimes a little rough. His paintings had presence, and spaciousness; they weren't declaratory, they weren't really statements at all, but vibrant insights, a showing forth of our ordinary universe at its most radiant -- "signatures of all things I am here to read" (Joyce, Ulysses, 3.1-4). Steve loved to paint. He unhesitatingly took on painting's every reward and struggle. His paintings engage us immediately. He wasn't painting to be remembered or even noticed, but I think his work will be.


Storm Over Red Hills
Oil on canvas
36" x 36"
March, 2011
Reprinted with permission of the estate of the artist

He was an autodidact, his lifelong study a means to intimacy and pleasure in art, shared enthusiastically in his teaching (I don't know anyone else in whom erudition was so fun). Steve and I would sit and discuss some backwater minutiae of art history, some idiosyncrasy or sidelight, with an insider's eye. I had the feeling only he and I had ever noticed whatever we were discussing. Images spoke loudly and articulately to him, and he took a pure joy in all art had to say to us, all that was profound, humorous, beautiful, great, and small.

Another friend, years ago, lay dying. His minister asked him what he would do if he had more time. "More of same" he responded. Steve had more in him, more to give, but he was always all there, complete, in all his homely grace. That is a life to celebrate. That was his gift, direct, yet not forgettable, durable, present, like stone.


Apache Peak
Oil on canvas
16" x 20"
April, 2011
Reprinted with permission of the estate of the artist