Virgina A. Groot Foundation

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Michael Stevens
1999 1st Place recipient


My work has always reflected my influences, beginning with my childhood, during which I spent many hours at kiddie matinees and in front of that new thing that entered the neighborhood, the television set. These images left me with marked impressions that last to this day. The visual theater of characters from these sources —the movie and TV heroes, villains, and sidekicks—has enhanced my artistic dialogue and intensified my personal imagery.

My work traces the human condition: the predicament we all share living in these bodies that we call home. The work becomes theater, storytelling devices that push the psychological differences between "good" and "evil," "guilty" and "innocent," "serious" and "satirical."


Michael Stevens aligns the comedic and sinister and the crude and refined in his mixed-media, wood sculpture and reliefs. These works are invested with the artist's attraction to dark comedy and irony, notorious aspects of his personality that, despite disclaimers and protestations, cannot disguise this artist's zest for life. Growing up in the 1950s before the family television set, he was captivated by the dichotomy of seemingly three-dimensional images contained within a flat screen. Telecasts of slapstick cartoons, local children's programming, and somber stories on the evening news delivered both whimsical and meaningful narratives directly into the family living room. The impact of this programming had a profound influence on Stevens from an early age and continues to inform his work today.

Simultaneously serious and satirical, Stevens's work presents ever-fluid juxtapositions of good and evil, innocence and guilt, comedy and horror.

Many of his pieces combine natural branches and twigs, often with wood left raw and bark intact. That which Stevens actually "sculpts" may be either painted or left unfinished. The incongruity between the natural golden sheen of the carved pine and the glossy, enameled surfaces (reminiscent of ventriloquists' dummies and children's toys) brings new tension and variety to the familiar medium.

Stevens also incorporates found objects into his work. His favorite "ready-mades" are found at the thrift-store, where he culls art reproductions of Old Masters and more recent artists to add depth and drama to his sculptures. Subjects included verdant landscapes, picturesque barnyard scenes, decorative still lifes, and stately portraits. Stevens then paints over, cuts into, "pops out," and otherwise commands new ownership of the hackneyed Pictures, elevating to the realm of fine art that which was formerly its antithesis.

These backdrops serve to bring depth to Stevens's pieces and provide his sculpted figures a place to inhabit. In Stevens's wall-mounted pieces, the panels act as theatrical stage sets. Akin to puppet theater, or early television performances acted out before painted scenery, both background and foreground scenes erupt into chaos. Characters painted into the background run out onto the shallow stage of the piece to unite fore and aft with color and imagery. Such spatial artifice became imbedded in the artist's psyche early on and has permeated his work for more than two decades. In Stevens's freestanding work, figures act out equally comic or disturbing activities. Here, the artist relies only on sculptural elements to tell the tale, not upon illusionistic "painted" surfaces.

Stevens's sculptures are never as familiar or charming as they may seem. More often than not, these "innocents" find themselves in compromising situations that heighten the chill implicit in the narrative. His sculptures also seem to express dismay at America's loss of innocence since the 1950s, paralleling his own emergence as an artist and his continually evolving perceptions.

In looking to the past, Stevens leverages youth's inherent uncertainty for the future. Indeed this "coming of age" is a recurrent theme in his work. In endeavoring to trace the human condition, Stevens has turned to a specific moment in time, offering viewers a glimpse of how he as an artist, and by extension American culture, has changed.

(Condensed Version)
Scott A. Shields, Chief Curator,
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California
November 2004

With contributions from Elizabeth Adan and Diana Daniels


Selected Exhibitions

Ruth's World, Selected Works from Braunstein/Quay Gallery
California Bank of Commerce, Lafayette, CA.
The Braunstein/Quay Gallery: 1961 to the Present, Cabrillo College Gallery, Aptos, CA
Michael Stevens: One Act Plays, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
Eccentric Imagery, Blue Line Gallery, Roseville, CA.
Play Time, Sacramento International Airport, Terminal B, Sacramento, CA
Against The Grain, Lois Lambert Gallery, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, CA.
His & Hers, JAYJAY, Sacramento, CA.
Artful Jesters, Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.
Art from Adeliza's Candy Store, Folsom History Museum, Folsom, CA.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Stellar Art From Area Collections, Pence Gallery, Davis, CA.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay, San Francisco.
Knock on Wood: Sculpture by Michael Stevens, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Revealing Influences: Conversations with Bay Area Artists, Museum of Craft Folk Art,
San Francisco, CA.
Visual Perspectives: 14 Years of the Virginia A. Groot Awards, Groot Foundation Space and SOFA Chicago at Navy Pier, Chicago, IL.
Mr. & Mrs., Michael Stevens & Suzanne Adan, Else Gallery, California State University, Sacramento.
Cats and Dogs, Jean Albano Gallery, Chicago, IL.
Trashformations: Recycled Materials in Contemporary American Art and Design, The Metropolitan State College of
Denver, Center for the Visual Arts, Denver, CO.
Michael Stevens: New Work, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA.

Public Collections

C.S.C. Index, San Francisco, CA.
di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA.
Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Kidder, Peabody & Co., New York, NY.
Lexecon Corporation, Chicago, IL
Livingston & Mattesich, Sacramento, CA.
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.
Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Persis Corporation, Honolulu, HI.
Squadron Press, Kansas City, MO.
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
California State University, Sacramento Permanent Collection.


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