When you hear Sioux City artist Steve Blenderman’s name, you may instantly think of the beautiful Roth Fountain on the Promenade in Sioux City. Steve has a passion for history and architecture; however, his passion and knowledge for the arts goes much deeper. He also draws and paints.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life, and always been a fairly prolific artist,” said Blenderman.
He attributes that fact to a number of things.
“I have always had an innate understanding since childhood that I was an artist. I was very lucky. Not only did my parents love me, but they also believed in me as an artist despite the odds that success in that career would remain elusive. There was also a nun who believed in me as an artist. When I was about 10 years old, she gave me private art lessons after school, and taught me how to paint. She had become a life-long friend, and her belief in me was essential for me to believe in myself,” shared Blenderman.
Another life changing moment took place after Blenderman’s senior year of high school. It was 1969; he studied abroad in Germany for 14 months.
“I finished high school and went to Germany with the YFU Exchange Program. If I hadn’t had that experience to live and study in Europe, I wouldn’t be who I am today. That was the most important, crucial experience of my life!” Blenderman stated.
Returning to the US, he worked as a courier at St. Luke’s hospital. He had met a woman in Germany and fallen in love with her. His goal was to earn enough money in order to purchase a ticket and return to Germany and marry her. After a year of working at St. Luke’s, he had the money he needed. His father gave him some sage advice when he left.
“My father had told me that if things didn’t work out, I could return to the US, and he would pay for me to go to any school I wanted for college. I had already been accepted at the University of Iowa,” said Blenderman.
Unfortunately, things did not work out with the young woman in Germany. That, however, did allow him to travel extensively in Europe with his friends and visit many well-known art pieces. But he knew he needed to return to the US to go to college.
“I went to the University of Iowa when I was 20, which was 1971. I had so much experience seeing the world the two times I was in Europe that nobody else had. That was a great advantage there. You get a more realistic grip on life as well,” said Blenderman.
He majored in printmaking, and went to classes for two whole years, summers included. Although he loved his time at Iowa, he longed for life back in Europe.
“At that time, Europe was just a better place for a career as an artist,” explained Blenderman.
He left college and returned to Europe to pursue a career as an artist.
“When I was in my early 20’s, I was in Europe. It was during more of a pop art, abstract period, but I never fully embraced that. I wanted as many people as possible to have immediate access to my art. I wanted them to be able to view my work, and not have to go through any intellectual explanations or learning processes,” explained Blenderman.
From 1973-76, Blenderman lived and worked as an artist in Berlin, from ’76-’78 he lived and worked in London, and from ’78 to ’83 he lived and worked in Paris.
“When I lived in West Berlin, I realized that I had to make a decision as to what style of art I should pursue. My true desire was to reach as many people as possible in the easiest way. Therefore, I knew that the figurative form (portraits) was the most accessible to anyone. My works have multiple levels of content which can be understood through knowledge of the subject, or simply for its visible reality. I always felt a responsibility for my talent and have perceived it as a gift which should be nurtured and passed on. In a sense it means for me to have usefulness as opposed to an elitist’s privilege,” stated Blenderman.
He has very fond memories of his years in Paris, especially.
“When I was living in Paris, I lived in the middle of downtown. It was just a studio, but a lot of people came and went in that apartment. I couldn’t complain,” said Blenderman.
In that studio, he drew a couple of portraits, and one in particular that stands out in his mind. The man in the drawing, soon to be turned into a painting, is a young man named Najib. Steve met Najib in Amsterdam, although he was originally from Morocco. Later he was painted, full figure, as Voltaire’s Candid.
“I asked him if he would let me draw him, and he said yes. I asked him what he was doing. He answered, ‘I’m looking for the truth. I’m in search of the truth,’ I thought I have to draw this guy. I just drew his head, later I drew him full figure,” shared Blenderman.
Another painting that holds a special place in Blenderman’s heart is simply titled, Calypso.
“Michelle, the woman posing for the painting Calypso, made an unforgettable comment to me. She said, ‘If I should someday be an old lady, I will be able to say that when I was young, I posed for an artist as a goddess.’ She was stunning, and that was the first time I painted her. One thing I will keep saying is the immense important feeling of gratitude I have for the people I’ve met who’ve modeled for me and have become friends. That never goes away. That will always be Michelle. That was the first time she posed for me. That was the painting that came out of it. There is a depth and a story to it,” stated Blenderman.
Another favorite drawing of Blenderman is Medea, which had been inspired by a young student he met while at Morningside College, where he returned as a non-traditional student in 1989.
However, Blenderman’s drawings and paintings are not limited to portraits. When he lived in Europe, he only lived in cities. Once he returned to Iowa, it gave him the opportunity to study the land he loved so well.
“When I started doing landscapes, I created the scenes exactly as I saw them. I witnessed the landscapes that I found and did not interpret them as I had with the portraits. I presented them truthfully as I saw them,” shared Blenderman.
When asked what legacy he wants to leave people with his artwork, Blenderman responded,
“To me life isn’t worth living if you’re not an individual, and to achieve as much as you can, and never give up on that. And never compromise. That’s perhaps why I never knew much commercial success. I refused to compromise myself with the things that I did and what I created. Be honest, be truthful, always seek the truth, and deal with it, handle it, don’t lie to yourself. Don’t lie to anyone. No matter what it costs you. Don’t be a fool either. The truth is the hardest thing to deal with, but in the end, you have the sense of integrity of yourself for that. You’re a better person if you’re honest.”
By Amy Buster