One thing about the Cliche is that when it is assigned as such it is almost universally seen as a negative.  To be “cliche” is equivalent for the most part to “boring, redundant, mindless”, or possibly seen as copying.  Certainly the word “unoriginal” comes to mind.  No artist wishes to be dishonored by these particular labels.

But if you think about it, the real reason something becomes Cliche’ is most likely because it was very catching, and universally liked by many, popular, in demand, and copied for good reason…it was spectacular, an… original.   We could say from this viewpoint that Cliche’ then has a positive position.

So I have had to ask myself if “Emulation” is the same as Cliche’, and at worst, the negative of that.

I was an artist from childhood.  I started work in Photography in my early 20s, and ended up in Film School in Chicago in the late 80s.  Graduating with a degree in film did not necessarily mean I was in the film industry.  Rather, that degree took me other places, specifically within the realm of computers, animation, audio production, and other artistic endeavors.  I’ve owned a video production business for awhile, and made mostly corporate style commercials and special FX pieces and animations for clients.  But as time has gone on, I’ve come full circle around to the more pure forms of art again, in particular oil paintings, and illustration, and on a very old and prototypical form of substrata; wood. 

Since 2014 I’ve produced more than 70 paintings, currently at work at any given time on at least 4 in rotation, allowing for drying while I work with the others.  I started large, and have gone more towards medium and small sizes, with plans for larger ones still in the works.  I have produced 1 triptych as well, my first and only one so far.  I have never been stressed out about being famous, or rich (not many who become artists truthfully believe we will be one or either of these things when we launch into art as a profession, unless we are under some delusion). 

I’ve worked primarily from photos for models and subject matter.  They at least stay put for you and the light does not change.  I’ve tried Plein Air, and I do like it.  That’s the only method of painting that I can reasonably work on canvas.  The rest of my work is much more carefully planned and crafted, purposeful, and also normally smooth, utilizing a great deal of blending at every stage.  Even with multiple layers of paint you can still see the wood grain to some degree, or the strokes of the application of gesso.  

I create my own frames, or reform choice “found” ones, and so I’ve become quite the woodworker, out of that necessity.  Most of my pieces are custom-framed and hand-stained to for color and fit.  I have found over time as well that making the frame FIRST for an artwork is a good idea, because it’s so much easier and more precise to create the artwork surface to fit the frame than the other way around.

My next “larger” project, as a project, is 4 pieces that are socially and morally reflective, entitled “Nuclear Arms”, “Heads of State”, “Disenfranchised”, and “Political Asylum”.   All will be of a slightly larger format, the same size for each one, and have a similar look to the styling, which is somewhere between realism and impression. Much of my work has been the stuff of beauty, serenity, introspection, nature, figures, and portraits. These 4 works will not be in the same direction as my  previously “emulated” works.   I’m drawn always to the more enigmatic, personal, and confrontational, and more of an illustrative style as well.  For instance, the recent painting that is mostly an emotional outlet for my angst about the war in Ukraine.  It’s titled, “psst, Vladimir”.  While a bit on the comic side, it’s still a serious subject, calling attention to a very real situation, just when we thought we were “through” that old cold war era and bomb shelters and such.  It’s been quite awhile since I have seen the once familiar nuclear symbol posted somewhere denoting the sign of a bomb shelter just below it.

I hope you, and the rest of the world, in so much as they can be reached with it, will enjoy my art, but also wrestle with it, contemplate it, and be impacted by it.  There is a part of me that goes into every piece.  I sign my name with my artist’s nom de plume, “Stephen”.  My real name is spelled with a “v”, but I have always thought of my artistic self as another person, not as a multi-personality of course, but another “personage” that is special and decisively different than my walking-around self.   I hope one of us will get to meet you, frankly the “v” Steven, because he is more engaging than Stephen in regular conversation.  

- Stephen

(Steven Curtis, Randolph, WI)

 StephenArts - Wisconsin -

Well man, I'm feeling the same way for different reasons. Art is odd it seems, and must have seasons. But it kind of feels like fishing, like a friend of mine had this "moon table" and went fishing whenever the moon table said it was optimal. Wish we had one of those for art.

Just wondering though...that color is not red, and it's not magenta, and it's not orange. It's like MagRorange. Very unique combination of colors. Love that. My background color for Oligarch was kind of like that, and I almost ran out! Especially nervous when I had to go back and repair something around the ladder, and all I had left was this little bit in some alum. foil. So I had to stretch it. You know how it is trying to "re-match" a color from scratch. Next to impossible.

By the way, this took me back to the Andy Warhol feel.

One more thing. I'm wondering, how much would you charge for a paper print of this? I mean, like on Bristol or some other nice medium? And another question about it possibly I could just purchase a digital "fine" copy from you and print it myself for my own display? I'm kind of surprised that artists don't do this more actually. There are so many out there that I think appreciate a piece of art, and would love to own it, but cannot fork over 800 bucks, and besides, in a case like's gone already, the original. But a really nice THAT I would think is cool.

For a digital download of the artwork, say 600dpi and perfect enough to print a 19x19 at it's full resolution, I'd be willing to send you $25. Reproduction rights of course exclusive to the download being that only one print be made per household, and of course never sold or reproduced in any way other than personal. All of that language has to be put into the "sale" of such an asset.

And I'm only assuming that you've heard of NFTs? The "new" way to sell originals to patrons with only a click of a button. This could easily be an NFT. They are similar to originals in that there is really only ONE of them per piece. The thing I'm leery of about them, on the contrary side of that, is that you can make only a few digital changes to the work, and it becomes a completely different version of the art. I still don't really know what to make of the NFT market thing. Do you? I mean...I haven't bought one, or made one either, that's for sure.

And may I say to you again, I think your stuff is great. I'm most impressed with the creative way you've taken what is a definitely whimsical artistic style, including the brush strokes, the crooked building that have no regard whatsoever with staying realistic, the very thin lines everywhere, almost like pencil on top of the painting, a child-like humor with "stick figures", and then simultaneously combined that with a sense of depth in the space and shadow. I guess what this would be is a good definition of the style "Surrealism". But then's NOT. Ha ha! That's what's so cool about it and I think very original feeling about it...individual....verging on being "new" in and of itself. It's like very little I've ever seen before. I cannot even think of what to compare it to.

Then again, I am NOT an art aficionado. I have taken art, and been to college, or course, not for art specifically, and I have been doing art all my life, sure, but I cannot claim some kind of "expertise" that you can document with a degree. I am the "self-taught", as actually there are many of us. But I DO know something when I like it, and I believe at least after 60+ years I have some relatively good taste. Blessings Per...

Oh, certainly. You have my permission. Thanks for asking.

Tony, I saw this today and wondered why I hadn't hit your follow button yet, because I upvoted a piece of yours before. But I am liking your stuff. Don't take this the wrong way, but you make me laugh! No really, your stuff is delightful, and always a surprise and "jolt"to find it, but I know it instantly, who it is.

Wondering if you're familiar with Peter Max. Your stuff is not like his, bur it is in that same arena. I do like it. Keep working, and yes, you found something when you started doing these pieces with the bones and teeth and such. That is just so signature and also fun. - Stephen

Whimsical, lovely, eye-catching, inventive, and purposefully random, as there is such a thing. I smiled when I found the little drum set and then the rope bridge...just awesome. This even looked like it was fun to create, let alone look at. And it has such integrity in the depth, the distances look real, the shadows convincing, so it straddles between the comic illustration and surrealism. I just don't want to stop looking at it. - Stephen

Amazing details and depth, for the size of it as well, a 5x7. Very nicely done.

This took me immediately back to the vinyl album covers in the 80s, specifically of the group Earth, Wind, and Fire, and even more specifically to their Greatest Hits album, which contains the same Egyptian "eye"-con, and a pyramid, but most strikingly the style and coloring. Really nice to see this type of "block" imaging as well, as many of your other works have that similarity. It's very individual to you, and I'm beginning to think that if I see it in the future I will recognize it as yours, most likely.

Most of the EW&Fire album covers are on this page:,-Wind-&-Fire.html

Thanks again John. Hey, you don' t know this I'm sure, but I have a blog I've been doing for 18 years now. It's mostly about film. This one particular entry is especially personal, so a good place to start:

Wonder if you've seen "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"? Great film.

You know, I have to add here...I rarely ever do political satire or commentary. It's not my "gig", although I certainly do think about it a great deal, especially with regards to the current crisis. My instinct to come out and fight is very difficult for anyone to arouse in a public way (I'm slow to bring judgment and criticism in an outward form). I almost feel embarrassed at times to do such a thing, because I actually am trying to empathize with all sides. For instance, I really don't like the idea, as I should not, of the nuclear bomb, period. No one should have to wave these things around and threaten with them.

But in this case, with this war that is being waged, at least the way I'm seeing it...the gloves have to come off here. I shake my head at least once a day, and try not to read the BBC news too much, but what I cannot...cannot fathom, is how a single person, or single group most likely, can command and wage an atrocity of this magnitude and seemingly hold everyone's feet to the fire, yet NOT sense their own responsibility in this.

I look at our civilization here in the Western world, our way of thinking, and I'm oftentimes critical of our own culture as being hedonistic, selfish, and plausibly amoral. It does not surprise me when I think of the Muslim world's astonishment, for instance, and hatred of our culture for it's abuse of our "freedoms" in the areas of sex, comedy, and the ability to slander our leaders, our own religions, etc. There is porn, and lasciviousness, and devious behavior, and drug abuse, and too much money that leads to corruption, over-indulgence, self-centeredness, the abandonment of community, the disintegration of the family, and all this even by people that we think of initially as being above all of that. If we could see ourselves as they do...sure you can see why it would be so astoundingly blasphemous in comparison (and of course we know they are not stain-free, and I myself am not lily-white...let he who is sinless cast....).

But then I turn around in another situation...this current assault on the Ukrainians and their citizens... and I see that at least our "system" of government, our way of handling crises, our democratic processes, be it the Parliment in the UK, or our own House of common elected Representatives in our own way in the U.S., the EU in general, compares with whatever type of government that is currently in power in the Kremlin, and, in artistic terms it's much like looking at a painting of Albert Einstein sitting across the table from a gorilla. Maybe Koko the Gorilla that was taught sign language quite some years ago in a California zoo?

So, maybe that's my next canvas painting... right now I'm thinking of just how I can possibly make a gorilla's face to emulate Vladimir's visage by juxtaposing the 2?

And the other thing that scares me, honestly, is that he's a gorilla with nukes. Just do one thing to piss him off and....oh crap...not sure that cage is going to hold!

Captivating work, and stylistically individual, very unique. To evoke emotion using geometry...that is an art itself. The eyes...those are what catch me, all looking a bit haunted, and up and away. But also the symbolic details, like the fanciful mail carriers in the sky, right along dismembered pieces of the thorny brambles. This is a perfect example of telling a story with one image. Great stuff.

ps: The light and shadow in this is superb!

This one really made me stop and look today. I really like this. I sense I am a parent who just came into an adult child's room and realized that they were gone. for some reason the quiet of the scene coupled with the fact that I know what time it is… The flowing curtain… Bench across the way from the open window and directly in the center of the open window… And the bench being empty… Is its own narrative. But I'm guessing that my narrative is an adult child probably because I have three on the brink of being "out". Because of the peace of the scene I don't get the sense that it was an angry or a bad parting… Simply a quiet one and discreet. As if though they got away but didn't want to say goodbye… Not just yet.

PS: a little history here...this started out as 2 white sisters, the one on the left, and her sister, as a photo. I kept looking at it (the photo), but knew it wasn't right by itself. Then I was watching "The Widow" on AmzPrime Video, a series, and it co-stared Shiloam Nyandiko, whom i just fell in love with on the screen. She's wonderful. Well, she became the African face for me, and it took off from there, and I made a few screen shots of her during the series for the model. Originally the cross-over squares were not part of it, and neither was the sands of time between them. So this truly was a "developmental" piece, the kind where you just set it aside and look at it for awhile and go, "hm..."

I have to be honest John, there are quite a few times where I step back from my own work when it's done and just shake my head and think, "Wow, I did that?"!! You got my point and I also thank your for your thoughtful response to my response. Ha ha! But just to reiterate about your "baggage", bring it on! That's great, like I said, as long as we know it's YOU! Ha. I love it. This little discourse we are having is very productive and I feel very positive about it too. Thank you so much man. You're a humble person, and insightful to the 9's...looking forward to more.

Thanks for your words about the Invitation piece as well. That was really great.

I have enjoyed reading your reviews Mr. Crowther, and the one you’ve penned for this piece is certainly flattering, energetic, and enthusiastic. We often need to hear encouraging words that reflect back to us what goes on in the minds and hearts of our viewers, especially one who is proving to be consistently engaged in that activity. Thank you very much!

One of the things about your more lengthy review that hits me positively is that my work awoke in you what is obviously a passionate subject, and one you’ve spent time with in other ways that lap over into the realms of the political and personal. When we put our work out there, we DO expect some response. So getting a varied and strong response from a critic for me means....goal achieved!

I mean, if I create a painting, first of all, I am creating something FOR someone else, unless I’m that narcissistic that I would only hang it on my own wall and admire it and pat myself on the back and relay to myself what a truly creative person I am. So since we start works with an expression in mind, or vision, it is, as so many other arts, a mode of communication that we’re utilizing, and birthing a perspective of our communication to the rest of the world. We should therefore expect that the reactions/feedback from others is inevitable, and also realize that those reactions, both mental and emotional, can be as varied as the individuals are who produce them.

So your comments, because they are generally overall above and beyond enthused with my piece, and it has hit a chord within you, John, that has brought out the best in you, are taken with equal enthusiasm, and are very welcome.

However I would caution (isn’t there always a “however”..right?), that we not attempt to utilize our common platform here, which is about art, for socio-political purposes that may reach far beyond anything that the artist intended, or may be misconstrued as actually being the opinion or outlook of the artist, when in fact it is simply the outcome of the way that the art has affected you as a particular viewer. I do mean that it’s perfectly fine to put your reaction/s down as part of a review, but it should be stated within that writing, in some way, that these reactions are just that…the viewpoints of said observer and what the art “has done for” you, or pulled out of you by it’s existence.

I could easily disagree with several phrases or points of reference in your review of Melanin 1, for instance, and they would be largely within the context of the socio-political or historical realms, or possibly a simple argument of logic, but not necessarily about the art work itself. The art work “starts” the conversation, but I would not want to piggyback economics and religion or political purposes onto the art work, or the artist, by extension, unless it was otherwise noted. A phrase at the beginning of your review would likely suffice if it included something like the following:

“This piece provoked in me my total understanding of the subject of race and how I see it, how something surface-oriented has, through history, been a way of subjugation of one part of our humanity to another. The following are my own thoughts on that subject, apart from the art itself, and not necessarily the thoughts or intentions of that artist, but…”, and then continue to make your statements about race, or the history of slavery.

I think the only thing that separates our 2 concepts about writing in response to an art piece here would be one of acknowledgement within the writing itself of the position of the writer as without, or as separated from that of the artist. In other words, plainly put, you in a few instances here infer that the thoughts you have about race relations and their outcomes are ALSO the same as the artists, and this is what I, the artist intended.

But even so, I do thank you again for your high praise and diligent observations of many works of art including my own. Thank you John. Please keep writing!

I respond to this with horror, and appreciation for where you have been. Being in a culture that is a dichotomy of fear/intimidation and religious fervor has exacted a toll. You are very brave and honest to express yourself this way. Don't lose your vision, man.

Compellingly real and authentic, enough to be recognized for what it is, and yet also just dreamlike enough to give a sense of history and transportation to that place.

The eye of the beholder is what makes art so subjective. I see balance, yes, but conflict, both sides almost equally represented, yet opposed. Symbiology here would replace the large round circles with figures having legs, arms, etc. and their respective strengths equated to the supporting structure and position on the "field of battle"...the canvas edge. Because our left-to-right orientation in our western culture as far as story is concerned leads us to the right for a conclusion, as well as the dominance of the upper part of any frame, the top third that is, we'd have to say that black and white were truly balanced in this sense, for although the white "aggressive" pieces on the left and lower side appear to be "pushing" to the right, the black and "defensive" pieces are higher, even though they are being pushed off the canvas.

Using the rule of thirds as the basis for analysis, you'd have to see that the lower, smaller white circle and the "sled" that the larger circles appear to be standing on (also headed towards the right I might add) are at just about the lower third line, and the area below the "sled" all appears to be supporting structure to the upper portion. Yet it seems that the black larger circle is drawing it's strength and support from the lower right portion of the canvas, and conversely the larger white circle is getting some kind of hierarchical grid of help from the heavens in the upper left. The weighted figures and lines do indeed all add up to a balance that is almost unexplainable.

I'd be interested to see if there are any mathematicians out there who could measure these lines and areas and come up with an equation from this. I bet it would indeed turn out to be balanced. Which would mean of course that Bill Stone is either an intuitive "polymath", like many musical composers as well, or he actually did figure out the math ahead of time prior to committing to this particular pattern.