JACKSON, Wyo. — Playfully referential—the credo by which Ben Steele paints also describes the compositions he creates. Through his brush, references to art, historical movements and figures share the spotlight with cultural characters and currents. Ever operating on multiple planes, Steele has titled his latest series, Spectrum, on display at Altamira Fine Art from July 18 to 29.

“The more we understand of the world, the more we can see that a lot exists in the gray, not just black and white,” he said.

Channeling the magic of trompe l’oeil (but not the deception), Steele creates Surrealist scenarios that feel vital in their variety; they come across as authentic in spite of their ambiguity. Fresh perspectives seem possible amid big personalities.

Nuance abounds in his new work as his painterly style makes sense of seemingly anachronistic setups: placing a vintage gumball machine in front of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone may seem absurd in the abstract, but by his hand, the two seem analogous; both vibrant in their palette play; both alluring in their visual appeal; both tantalizing (although to drastically different ends). Such push-and-pull underpins his paintings; the instinctual and the intellectual; desire and archetype.

Classically trained in painting, Steele found his voice by way of a crayon box: what began as an exercise—sketching Crayolas—surprised him with their substantive characteristics, engaging color theory, formal aspects (composition, form, tone, texture, etc.), cultural history, even language in the form of winking labels. Crayons still make cameos. For their part, gumball machines have surfaced periodically over the years; a decade ago, he turned to them as foils for cultural memory and childhood pastiche. Now, having let their form lay fallow, he returns to them with fresh eyes.

Trout Crayons. Oil on canvas. 30 x 20 inches. Photo: Ben Steele

“In a way, the machines might not have changed, but I have,” he said. “Before I was presenting them in interior spaces. Now, I see new roles for them.” And yet, his role as an artist remains resolute: to range freely through art history and Western tropes, in search of insight into life as its lived. “What is the spectrum of human experience?”

For more information about Steele and his new paintings, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email — connect@altamiraart.com — or phone — (307) 739-4700.