DOWNEY - Award-winning Steve Clay will be the featured artist in March for Downey's Art on the Vine series. Opening night will be Saturday, March 3, at Mari's Wine Bar on Firestone Boulevard.Clay is nationally recognized, with a body of work that reveals more than just skill and technique. His paintings and illustrations reflect the passion and life-experience of the artist himself. "I try to find the poetry in each image I create," he says. As a young boy, Clay grew up in an artistic "milieu" - but it was the jazz world of the south side of Chicago. His parents, Herb and Mildred, ran a popular lounge that was often visited by performers such as Count Bassie. Clay credits his cousin Harold with stimulating an early interest in drawing, and after high school Clay's talent earned him a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. With a growing interest in the field of commercial art, Clay completed his studies at the American Academy of Art under the guidance of Irving Shapiro. He was one of the first black students to do so. Coming of age amid the turbulent political and social currents of Chicago in the 1960's, and with a young family to support after completing his studies, Clay took work where he could find it; but he remained unrelenting in his goal to succeed as a professional artist. Working as an apprentice illustrator, Clay skirted the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention while delivering a project to a client. He designed window displays for the department stores of Marshall Fields & Co., and he was a courtroom illustrator for CBS during its coverage of the trial regarding the death of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Clay's talent and hustle eventually brought him work as an illustrator for big firms such as Encyclopedia Brittannica Educational Corp., Anheuser Busch Brewing Co., Ebony Magazine, Down Beat Magazine, and Paramount Pictures. By the 1980's, Clay was exploring new artistic directions and projects. While continuing to employ an exacting technique, his portrayal of the dancers at practice in his Ballet series displays a lyricism and sensitivity that can only have come from one who deeply understands dedication to an art form. "I am drawn to the quieter, internally focused moments," he explains. "My paintings are a reflection of my personal consciousness." A viewer would agree - the dancers clearly share Clay's own determination. Today, his work appears in many private and corporate collections, with some pieces having been on exhibit at the Smithsonian and other museums. His painting "The Invisible Men of Honor" was commissioned in 2005 as a tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers of the west - former slaves, freemen, and Civil War veterans who were the first Black professional soldiers' unit in a peacetime army. The painting is now part of a permanent collection of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and Heritage Center in Houston, Texas. It was a career move that brought Clay to Los Angeles in 1990. He had wanted to work with the movies, and was successful with several film projects until digital facilities changed the industry forever. By then, he had a national client list and Los Angeles remained his base. A stroke in 1995 brought undreamed of changes to his life. He had just embarked on a new project of paintings dedicated to the Black West that were to become a series of limited edition prints. Only two of the paintings were completed when he lost the use of his right hand. No longer able to paint, Clay showed the same grit and discipline of earlier years as he worked with the therapists at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in Downey. While recovering the use of his right hand, Clay learned to draw with his left, and today he has resumed his work using both hands. While continuing to paint, Clay says that he is not as aggressive with the business aspects as before. He is well-known as one of the instructors for the Don Knabe-Pediatric Arts Program at Rancho Los Amigos, and he helped establish what is now known as "The Art of Rancho Exhibit," an exhibition for artists with disabilities that promotes life after a disabling illness or injury. An inscribed photograph with Supervisor Don Knabe hangs on his living room wall near other commendations and photos of his parents and grandmother. On the opposite wall are photos and a painting of his son and daughter-in-law. The family musical tradition has resurfaced through Clay's son, Chris Bruce, who is lead guitarist for singers such as Seal and Cheryl Crow. Clay is clearly proud of his son, describing him as a man of integrity who is committed to his work and loves his wife. His tribute to his son reflects the qualities that have made Clay himself so successful in his chosen field - discipline and commitment as well as a sensitive soul. Clay's art will be on display for the month of March at Mari's Wine Bar, 8222 Firestone Blvd. in Downey.
********** Published: March 01, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 46