Playing Around: Interview with kinetic sculptor, Steven Strenk

Sarasota Visual Art talks with professional Sarasota artist and educator, Steve Strenk, about his relationship with his creations, and process.

It’s not everyday that we associate fine art with toys. Often the first image that comes to mind when think of art is a painting- something formal perhaps. However it’s more common than you think. The notion that artists can use materials creatively to express whimsy and a sense of play in objects is one that has been around for quite some time. From Alexander Calder’s Circus consisting of pulls, strings, cranks, and noises to the Simpson-like work of New York based contemporary artist and designer, Kaws, the playful and inventive works are here to stay.

Sarasota Visual Art talks with professional Sarasota artist and educator, Steve Strenk, about his relationship with his creations, and process.

sVA: It’s almost every kid’s dream to make his or her own toys. What started your fascination with combining function, utility, and toys into your art?

My kids!! During graduate school, I was painting subject matter that was very isolated; because of my circumstances I was inspired by the landscape around me. I then realized looking in and around my studio that my children were and will always be a significant part of my art making. They had their toys everywhere, I believe that it started when I picked up one of their toy trucks and made a painting of it.

sVA: How would you define the art of toy design? Do you have a routine process?

I would have to say it begins with a sense of play, figuring out how things work, and what their purpose might include.

I think knowing your process is important. I begin with a drawing, like many others do, however I then spend most of the time developing a prototype. It’s through the prototyping process that I make decisions of function. Where is it located, what is it doing, and how is the viewer suppose to interact with it?

sVA: You are participating in the 38th Toys Designed by Artists Exhibition opening November 21 at the Arkansas Arts Center. What does this mean to you?

This is a great step in the right direction for my work. My goal is to get the work out, try to find the “right” audience; who are they, where are they, those kinds of things. I would like to start exploring other areas of the country to find a place for my work. Someone somewhere needs to start collecting my work!

Perfect Flower © Steven Strenk

sVA: Your work is a wildly inventive combination of something handmade, playful, elaborate, colorful, but also full of personal expression. Are your sculptures for yourself?

I would like to share. Of course I make work hoping others would appreciate it, but it’s not my sole motivation. I just find things fascinating, and find a need to deconstruct objects and materials, re-inventing the purpose of them. Thinking up ideas gets very exciting: what can I make, where can I use it, is it functional, or what do I do next.

sVA: While most toys are massed produced, your work is one-of-a-kind, and meticulously crafted from found objects. Can you describe your process of collecting?

Everyday I’m around “stuff”. Whether it be a matchbox car, or some cool Lego construction my son is in the middle of building. Possibilities are everywhere. When I come across a new material, it could be as simple as a new sheet of paper, or it could be as complex as hacking an electronic to make something light up. This always gets me energized, and I think, “What could I do with this?”

Enlightenment (a study of) © Steven Strenk

sVA: You always seem to have new projects. What lies in your future?

Well….I’m thinking about lighting things up! Lighting plexi-glass could be fun. I have all these great colors. It could be an interesting turn to transform the work into some sort of kitsch. The wonder of what they would look like as a “night light”? I don’t know …so many things to do…maybe a mini theater with a moving disc of images? We’ll see.

sVA: Lastly, what do you think makes toys so special?

It depends on how you define “toy”. A car for a middle-aged person could be their toy, a new Lego set for my 9-year-old that puts a smile on his face is a toy. For me I think a “toy” is designed to bring a sense of amusement, wonder, and a smile to the participant.

To view more of Stenk’s work, visit: