Briefly describe the work you do.
My recent work has taken a turn from geometric abstraction toward a humorous yet visceral mode of narrative performance. What does this mean? Well, that’s the big question my current work asks. Long story short, I’ve been developing a half human, half anatanine (duck) character who’s a fumbling, self-educated and somewhat confused pathologist. He dissects digestive organs engorged with chewed candy, specifically licorice and mint, in order to study their dead and diseased matter. It is his belief, however absurd, that these examinations can redeem scientific and aesthetic value from such lifeless objects. I create these organs from a variety of cheap and accessible materials, such as chicken wire, bubble wrap, duct tape, plastic wrap and wood glue. They are then placed within an ad-hoc autopsy room equipped with surgical tools, optical devices and a collection of esoteric medical and art historical reference materials. My most challenging work now is figuring out how I, as the author of this character, inhabit this role and moving gracefully back and forth between the space of the studio, the space of the maker, and the space of this strange medical theater, the space of the performer.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m familiar with medicine, hospitals and the messy work of healing and repair in the face of death and decay.
My father was a doctor, practicing for over 30 years, and my mother and oldest sister were nurses. Quite a bit of time in my early years were spent sitting in a doctor’s lounge, paging through Gray’s Anatomy and yellowed copies of The Journal of the American Medical Association (the contents of which I understood about .005%). I’d be guzzling down papers cups of lemonade amidst the symphonic interference of CAT-scan machines, EKG monitors and other unknown radioactive frequencies. On other weekends I would accompany my sister on visits to Detroit area church shelters and help distribute fresh gauze to addicts who, having exhausted every traditional avenue of drug delivery, had rendered their shins pock-marked disaster sites.
Back at home, I would explore my Dad’s library, a wood paneled wonderland for a blossoming bibliophile. Single shelves spanned time and space, a compressed timeline of knowledge and wonder. The eight volume set of Netter Medical Illustrations was flanked by the TimeLife series on the American Indian, Peterson’s Birds of North America and St. Augustine’s Confessions. This early reading impacted my own intellectual pursuits and and wide ranging explorations. I went on to study philosophy and literature, namely phenomenology and Modernist poetry, before making my way to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was here that I ultimately found the path where all of my interests converged.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
In my mind, the “artist studio” is anywhere work related to one’s artistic practice gets done.
My formal studio space is a little room where objects get made. It isn’t located in my home so I treat it like a production office. It’s the place I go to work for extended periods of time, free from the day-to-day concerns that so often encroach upon our work. That said, this studio is part of the Fulton Street Collective, a motley bunch of painters, writers, designer and dancers. I spend a considerable amount of time talking with these other artists, learning about different creative processes and digesting new work.
I also maintain what I like to call an extended studio, amorphous spaces where other kinds of practices happen. Over the past couple years I have been involved with more and more collaborative and curatorial projects so the studio has extended itself into the offices of gallery directors and exhibition planners as well as the studio spaces of emerging artists. As these projects call for applications, proposals and statements, I’ve found that the studio not only occupies a literal space but also a virtual one, the space of the page.
Another space, and perhaps the most important and rewarding one, is the Coleridge Studio of Esperanza Community Services. Here I help arts facilitators nurture the creative expression of developmentally disabled adults. They are fearless creators, engaging whatever medium they approach with enthusiasm and wonder. It is trite to say but nonetheless true that I learn more from these artists than they could ever learn from me.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I certainly did not envision myself ever taking part in any sort of performance. I hate being on camera or putting myself out in front of an audience. So this new turn my work is taking comes as a total surprise.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The best time of day to make art is early in the morning. The ideal studio session starts at around 6.30–7.00a and goes non-stop until 3p or so. I really like working while it’s still dark and then pushing through the early morning light. By 10.30a I feel like I’ve accomplished something (whether I really have or not). I make it to the studio 4-5 times a week while balancing design and volunteer work.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work has changed drastically over the last five years. It has evolved from formal, geometric abstraction to more visceral, sculptural work. It has stayed the same in that it is very process driven and always starts from a system of rules which I rigorously work through to exhaust.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Wow. There are so many people that have and continue to have an impact on my work.
Family: I could not do any of my work without the help and support of my wife, Katie.
Writers: Lewis Hyde, George Saunders, David Foster Wallace.
Artists and Philosophers: John Dewey, Thomas Hirschhorn, Søren Kierkegaard, Agnes Martin, Richard Tuttle
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’ve had occupations outside of being an artist and can’t see myself doing anything else.
Steve Juras is a Chicago-based artist and designer. He received a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work uses a wide range of everyday materials, from candy and bubble wrap to sandpaper and silicone rubber, to create visceral encounters. Steve has shown and curated work throughout the Chicago area and is currently taking part in the Center Program at the Hyde Park Art Center where he will be exhibiting work at the end of 2014.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.