Cleveland artist brings social issues to downtown Kent exhibit

Art by Darius Steward.

Raeanna Hertz

Surrounded in a room with empty white walls, stands a lonely tall gallery pedestal.

The image makes Darius Steward’s mind flourish with new ideas for his gallery “BAC N 4th”.

“I always think of the pedestal when I think about the blackness in the gallery,” Steward said. “I think about this being on display and this white pedestal in this white room and how does that feel, it’s like this enormous weight being put on that object.”

Steward was four-years-old when he started his artistic journey. He could remember sitting at his aunt’s house drawing the comics from the morning newspaper.

“I started taking it seriously in junior high, I decided I wanted to go to a high school for art and that’s when I went to Cleveland School of Arts,” said Steward.

Since then, Steward received his undergraduate in Drawing and Painting from the Cleveland Institute of Art and went on to obtain a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Delaware.

Steward currently lives in Cleveland with his wife and son. His artwork has been shown at the William Busta Gallery, Zygote Press, and Cleveland Clinic. He also has an article of achievements written by the Call & Post.

This month, over 13 terrorist attacks have shocked the world. Steward reaches out to his audience by translating worldly concerns. This was the inspiration for Steward’s solo exhibit “BAC N 4th”.

“I was at school when 911 happened, so I started drawing social issues,” said Steward. “Things that were happening in the world.”

In Steward’s artwork, viewers are able to create their own interpretations through the white negative space he leaves.

“The emptiness is where viewers can add to the piece. And sometimes they learn something from that process of adding,” explained Steward.

To further his career and ambitions, Steward teaches at Saint Ignatius High School, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

All of the characters and faces in Steward’s paintings are family members, but the star of Steward’s story is his son.

“It’s easier to draw them…it’s a pressure when you draw someone new and try to capture who they are,” said Steward. “But because I know these people, I don’t have to care about any of that stuff.”

The paintings create a timeline of a concept Steward refers to as “swinging” through life.

“It was really all about going no where really fast, this idea that I’m using all this energy to really get absolutely nowhere. So I just thought about the different stages of that, how a kid might act in that situation or fast forward to where a guy is older pretty much done trying to swing, he’s just being now,” said Steward. “That was the concept of the swings, showing more emotion and the actual activity of push and pull through life.”

Most of the artwork shown at the downtown gallery is abstract but Anderson Turner, director of galleries, said he chose Steward for a reason.

“For me, it was a type of artwork we don’t get to show a lot. It’s very representational. And that’s what I was attracted to…it was something that we could do that was different,” said Turner.

Graduate student and gallery employee, Mike Nold, also understood Steward’s work by interpreting the negative space concept.

“The negative space is definitely what stands out. I can also see that it’s all about the figure and they’re central to all the pieces.”

Steward’s artwork plays on the topic of social issues. The repetition of whiteness seen throughout the paintings and drawings has an underlying meaning for him.

“There’s a quote from Zora Neal Hurston, who was a famous African American writer, she said, ‘I don’t always feel color, I feel most color when I’m struggling toward a sharp white background,’” said Steward. “So, it has a lot to do with race as well.”

Steward strives to illustrate current worldly issues through his work. He paints a picture for his audience literally and figuratively in hopes to spread light on the subject.

“All of these things for me are more like tricks to try and get people to actually start to add to the image, if I tell you everything what do you really get from it,” said Steward. “So, what I feel that I do is make a statement or ask a question, then I hope that you will bring something else to the table.”

Steward’s artwork will continue to be on display at the Downtown Gallery until Dec. 19.

For additional questions or information regarding Steward’s display at the gallery please visit, https://www.kent.edu/galleries.

Raeanna Hertz is the arts reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]