Artist profile: QC lamp lover Mike Steele

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Quad Cities artist Mike Steele. — Melanie Hanson/Little Village

With his recent multimedia avant-garde ode to light fixtures, experimental artist Mike Steele demonstrates the potential of creative constraints and a renaissance of absurdism.

Eastern Iowa and other QC live music fans already know Steele as the human giant who has introduced bands at Codfish Hollow, the Rust Belt, RIBCo and other staples of the local music industry for years. He never uses a microphone. He doesn’t need one.

Off-stage, he’s not as loud or demonstrative. While his most recent series of ink drawings (“Lamps”) is a celebration of the everyday, a view of the common from an uncommon perspective, it’s nowhere near as obnoxious as, say, Andy Warhol’s soup cans. Warhol was more into marketing and said shit like, “I just love everyone.”

Lamps 5 is ink and pastels on Bristol board, posted online with the hashtags #quarantine #covid and #help. — courtesy of the artist

Steele has never, ever said anything like that. I am sure of it. In fact, he may be the anti-Warhol. The idea of a Superstar is repugnant to someone who has never viewed art as the realm of the elite. Rather, Steele’s collar-less realism reflects a Democratic Socialist philosophy strengthened by his choice to incorporate his work into digital media via Facebook.

Most visual art doesn’t offer the viewer an opportunity to interact directly with the creator. Unless you go to an exhibition opening, you probably won’t be able to turn to the artist and ask, “Why did you put that weird giraffe in the background? And why is it on fire?”

Lamps 2 is ink and pastels on Bristol board, posted online with the hashtags #quarantineart and @coronavirus-2019. — courtesy of the artist

Steele has posted each piece of “Lamps” to a Facebook Group called Lamp Enthusiasts, which itself has spawned offshoot factions of rivaling philosophies, including one that considers the original group wholly complicit in the suppression of marginalized lamps under an authoritarian regime. Steele himself is a founder of one (or several) of these groups, but he posts pieces of “Lamps” on every lamp-related group page he finds.

While these pieces are mostly the same medium, Steele works in different media and genres from one day to the next, as he is moved to do so. Some of his other works compare to Gabriel Perez Raventos, a Spanish artist who primarily uses found objects like old coffee filters and window treatments.

Lamps 6 (Fibonacci’s 10 Golden Lamps) is Ink and pastels on Bristol board. 19”x24”. — courtesy of the artist

In the early-20th Century, dada was born from the insanity of World War I. The 21st Century’s own destructivism comes at a time when at least one enemy is invisible and could be anywhere at any time. Steele’s work is the harbinger of a greater artistic movement — one that emerges from the putrid slime of insidious paranoia, with an abyssal maw of bladed teeth, that seeks to eliminate all productive meaning, thereby stripping the corrupt of their weaponry.

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