Scratching The Surface: New Works by Darius Steward
For many people, the blank page can be an intimidating place to start. Whether you are a writer or a visual artist, the bleached sanitized glow of a white piece of paper can be paralyzing and anxiety-inducing. Where do I start? Where do I end? The initial marks seem so important and influences every mark moving forward.
Yet, Darius Steward, a 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Zygote Press, can boldly invade white space with black ink and washes of color. His personal approach to mark-making is stark yet soft, loud yet quiet, and confident yet vulnerable. There is something very beautiful and humbling about his style.
Scratching the Surface, his new exhibition of ink drawings and prints at Zygote Press, is undoubtedly a result of an artist dedicated to making his mark on the Cleveland art scene. The exhibit is a must-see collection of intimate portraits exclusively featuring Darius’ four-year-old son. This gathering of work serves both as a way for him to contemplate his own childhood and celebrate the life of his developing child.
When I asked Darius about his compositions and the use of white space within his work, he mentioned a quote by Zora Neale Hurston: “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” Much like Zora, Darius is a powerful voice. His messages are projected from each piece of paper and shine a light on the emotional complexities in bringing up a child in a modern world of conflict and uncertainty.
I Carry Us depicts a young figure carrying baggage behind him, which is a reflection of Darius’ own upbringing and life as a child. His son is growing up in a different time yet still exposed to so many of the same difficulties and concerns. As his son ages, Darius hopes to document different crossroads within this on-going body of work, and sees this an opportunity to experience and appreciate a childhood he was never able to have himself.
In the piece, I Carried Far Enough, his son is gazing directly at the viewer, surrounded by the aura of white space and stylized with gorgeous expressive hues of ink. He sits calmly in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and sneakers. The Disney iconography, which has been popular for decades, connects his generation to his son’s generation. Darius sees himself when he looks back at the faces reflected from the gallery walls. Many of his family and friends have commented on the resemblance.
Of all the analogies encoded within Darius’ artwork, the childhood act of swinging is a reoccurring motif within this body of work. In the ink drawing, Stationary, the lone figure is stopped with feet resting slightly on the ground. A long dark shadow tilts to the right as the boy peers forward, waiting for someone to give him a nudge or push on the swing. This rudimentary act of swinging is a metaphor for the people Darius saw in his own neighborhood; those who went through the motions of everyday life but at the end of the day, were stationary and still in the same spot. This act of rocking back and forth, yet never really moving forward, is something that Darius observed after returning to Cleveland from earning his graduate degree in Delaware.
Zygote Press continues to showcase some of Cleveland’s most talented visionaries. We are fortunate to have a long-lasting nonprofit organization that applauds experimentation and freedom of expression. When visiting the gallery, observe Darius’ dry point prints from his residency in the printmaking studio, which compliments his traditional ink drawings on display. Scratching the Surface will be on view now through October 29. The gallery is located 1410 East 30th Street and open Wednesdays & Sundays, noon to 4:00 p.m. or other times by appointment. For more information about Zygote Press visit their website.