Barbie, Fine Art, Interior Design and Ross Perot…or Five Quick Questions with Artist Steve McElroy
I met Steve when I lived in LA over 15 years ago. Thanks to the miracle of social media, we’ve stayed in touch. We used to grab coffee downstairs from CRUNCH Fitness at Sunset and Laurel and talk about everything and nothing at all. I think I absolutely adored him the very minute we met.
He had a childlike innocence and sense of wonder about him that made him a joy to be around. He still has that quality. And it comes through in his words and his work; a vast collection of meticulously beautiful, celebratory, and inspired works that hang in collectors’ homes and have adorned global retail packaging of one of the world’s most iconic brands.The fact that he didn’t even start painting until he was 37 is something I cling to as I pursue my own creative passions in a “mature” age bracket. He gives me hope. He’s been wildly successful and shows no signs of slowing, only of exploring more. More color, more depth, more vibrance will undoubtedly influence everything he touches. Let’s take a peek into the brilliant mind of Artist Steve McElroy…
1. What is the most creative thing about what you do?
The most creative part, by far, is the idea. The technical craft of creating art is a learned process for sure. Anyone can do it. I’ve taught several people the technical aspects and they can create. But the idea is the tricky part. One must decide over and over WHAT to paint. It’s that whole premise of ‘Just Do It,’ I suppose, and I never have writers’ block in that regard. I’m forever curious of what’s going on around me and it brings me ideas without fail. But, I don’t let the thought of it overwhelm me.
There are over 3,000 works of mine out there in the world somewhere, but I made myself enjoy them one at a time. There are certainly many artists more talented than I, but I suppose my gift is my insatiable curiosity…my desire to please the viewer. I have always had an enjoyment of “show and tell” since childhood, but I was never an artist early on.
I started late in life at 37 years old, I chose it, it did not choose me.
I still enjoy nothing more than to create something from nothing; an empty canvas that suddenly becomes something permanent, something with beauty and meaning that sends my message beyond my lifetime, I hope! I’ve worked hard to make sure I never let any complications in life steal my youthful enthusiasm to create. As in anything, I do not believe in luck, per se, in a career. To me, the idea of luck is somehow a disrespect to hard work in any particular craft. I paint not from a desire for money, but from a desire to leave something positive of myself behind in this wild, wacky world. I am an eternal optimist, so all my art is positive or sends an uplifting message….even if just for the moment you view it. I still believe 1,000 percent that, through creativity and inspired hard work, one can still do anything one chooses to accomplish in this world.
2. When did you know that painting was the right thing for you?
It was in New York in 1996. My very first painting hung in the collection of a friend of mine. I saw it recently and it was a wild flashback that was oddly very emotional for me. It was so many paintings ago! I had a business career early on but did not enjoy the process of business. It bored me. But I was fortunate to work with H. Ross Perot for 8 years in Dallas. A wonderfully creative man! He had been my hero early on in life and, although we certainly had our clashes, he taught me and all those around him that they could do anything…no limits!
He’s a genius at that skill. So after our partnership ended, I had a fresh desire…a belief that I could do anything.
I could do anything I chose to do, and I chose art.
I had always enjoyed looking at art, and I always thought it was important. The permanence of it was something that absolutely fascinated me. Still does. So the truth is… I backed into it as a career out of a love for it and I just started. Over the years, I got better and better until it was desirable and collectible. Although it was hard at times, I never regretted it for a second. I studied and practiced and created paintings and drawings until I was good. But that’s true in anything really, isn’t it? People are so intelligent and they can tell if your heart is in something or not. The nicest thing someone can do (in my view) is to get excited like a child when they see a new painting, or if they take note of the diversity I’ve worked hard to develop in my work. That never gets old! Being an artist never gave me a moment of regret, and I hope the viewer can see the joy I felt in every single piece.
3. What is the biggest misconception about your industry or creative endeavor?
People think the creation of art is a purely spontaneous act, and it rarely is. The idea can be a spontaneous act, but the creation of an actual painting is a layer by layer process, like building a house. The eye sees the image in the reverse order of which it was created. For example, the background must be created first because the eye expects it to be behind the subject…so, therefore, one must paint it that way. In other words I build layer by layer towards the eye to get my 3D appearance. [His Instagram page often highlights his process from start to finish…and it’s fascinating!] You can’t fake it either, or even the untrained eye will catch you.
I love tedium, details, the process. I rarely create multiple works at the same time. I start and finish one at a time, use the best materials, strive for extreme detail in my craft so as to not insult the viewer. I want them to look at it and know it was carefully created and thought through. The fun for me is the wonder of not knowing how it will turn out until the very end; a roller coaster ride, really. After all these years, it never gets boring to me and I’m still surprised by all the ways materials may be used differently…across the canvas or paper. My hope is that my next work is my best work.
4.What is your greatest obstacle in trying to balance creativity and business?
Although I never really enjoyed business, through my past experience, I suppose I’m good at it. I delegate that part to those who are better than I, so as to maximize my creative time. I never wanted to be known as a businessperson, but rather a creative person. That’s not to belittle the business process, as it’s very important to success.
Perot always said, “An organized mind is a successful mind”… and it’s true.
My advice to others is to delegate to the professionals and let them be similarly creative in their tasks…they will surprise you! I say to those whom I work with “I know you’ll do this beautifully” and they do! But ultimately, I do it out of respect for others’ skills, not to micro-manage so that everyone is miserable in the process. I now know that to leave others alone to do their thing makes it so much easier and better for all. But I wasn’t always that way, it was a learned process. I’m a control freak in my craft, but not in my business. One must sell and succeed to continue to create, I suppose, but I made sure I created a good structure once…and then moved on to my childlike creating!
5. What’s the next big CREATIVE thing for you or your business:
Well-known companies have hired me to create clever interpretations of their brands over the years. One of these was Mattel, which commissioned me 20 years ago for Barbie’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. I did two paintings to make sure they picked one! They used both and put them out worldwide as puzzles and posters and other secondary products with Andy Warhol’s Barbie. It was a watershed experience for me, as Barbie is the #1 Toy in the world. I’ve done another “The World of Barbie” to help celebrate the upcoming 60th Anniversary of Barbie. Again, all my work sends a loud message to the viewer that anything is possible if one chooses for it to be.
Another new thing for me is working with some of the best interior designers in the world. It still shocks me when they call, as I never feel worthy, but I find them to have fascinating mindsets.
Many of them are as creatively childlike as I am, and it makes me feel less weird.
It is absolutely fascinating to me to see a good interior designer in action. They are fearless, they are an idea a minute, they love the process and they act! I think this blind or naive ambition in life is one of the most valuable assets anyone can have….because it never occurs to them that they can’t do something. Thrilling to see, and I hope to continue to grow in that regard as well.
I’ve also seen this quality in well-known people I’ve met…like Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and others who collect or appreciate art. It’s been enlightening and inspiring to see that the most successful people are usually the ones who chose it for themselves and went about making it happen, without fear. One of them is a 90 year-old designer who is doing the most stunningly modern and genius work in interior design…right now… at 90! The work doesn’t know her age and she has no intention of slowing down. I love that. I think I chose art for this same reason.
The older one gets the more valuable they can become.
I think that’s the closing message I’d like to leave, that we all should reject standard misconceptions of age or class or skill and just go for it!
That take-away has spawned another blog topic that I look forward to diving into. I’m so grateful that an artist of Steve’s caliber took the time to contribute to my project. Go forth and create; in your every day life, in whatever way you can, at whatever age you are. And if you don’t know where to start, then find me. I’ll help.