Magazine article Southwest Art

Steven Deo

Magazine article Southwest Art

Steven Deo

Article excerpt

WEIGHING IN AT 60 POUNDS, Steven Deo's Sculpture GLOBAL WAR is a solid sphere of 7,500 toy soldiers. From a distance, it's a replica of Earth, with white continents afloat on blue oceans; up close, it's chaos, with jutting plastic body parts and guns pointing in all directions.

Deo, who was born in Claremore, OK, of Creek and Euchee descent, is a master at transforming mundane objects into art, along the way appending layers of meaning. Sometimes, as with GLOBAL WAR, his purpose is political. Often, it is playful-witness his animals built of puzzle pieces. Using such diverse materials as the soles of shoes, bent rulers, dice, and encyclopedias in his artwork, he has commented on everything from society's judgment of women's bodies to the diseases that European settlers brought to the New World.

Partly from childhood experience, Deo finds beauty in materials that others think forgettable, whether they be the glassy surface of a golf tee or the malleability of a stick of chewing gum. Poverty forced his family to be creative; he recalls his grandparents turning tuna cans into drums and boot leather into door hinges years ago.

Increasingly a conceptual artist, the 49-year-old, who is these days a resident of Albuquerque, NM, last year received a coveted Joan Mitchell Foundation grant to further his artistic career. But he started out as a painter of traditional Creek imagery. In the early 1990s, while he was a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, he took a hard look at his output. "I wasn't really making a connection with my artwork," he says, looking back. "I've never ridden a horse or shot a buffalo."

DEO'S SEARCH FOR A MORE AUTHENTIC form of expression led him to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he was overjoyed by the smell of paint and turpentine and by paintings he knew he would learn to understand. He graduated as an honor student and took with him an enlarged perspective on art and further insight into his own identity.

Another turning point came in 2000, when he took a job as preparator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. "I got to see art made with so many materials," he recollects. "It loosened me up to not worry so much about how it might be preserved or how things might go together. …

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