February 29, 1952 - August 20, 2019

Obituary, in The Washington Post on Sept. 12, 2019 READ HERE

Funeral services will be held at St. Leonard Church, 5330 Beech St., Laona, WI on September 30, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. Burial will follow at Laona Cemetery. A memorial service will be held in Washington, D.C. at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to So Other Might Eat (

“Steve’s first experience as a painter was when, as a very little boy, he painted his dog. No, I mean he literally painted his dog. This captures the kind of artist Steve was: he was always painting, he seemed not to know ‘no,’ he painted what and how he wanted without any apparent sign of inhibition.

Steve’s artist mentor was the abstract expressionist painter Helen Covensky. He often quoted her as he mentored me: “Remember - there are no rules.” And this ethos came through in his paintings. His paintings were not bound up by theory but were rather spontaneous expressions of thought and feeling.

Steve had a favorite word: “flaneur,” French for ‘wanderer.’ Or as he defined it, “One who has turned wandering into an artform.” In fact, he wandered through many worlds in his too-short lifetime. He grew up in the northern Wisconsin countryside where his family had a dairy farm, spending many of his days meandering through the woods around the lake near the family home. Much later, he would come to DC to study law and start his career working for a private firm. But, wanting his work to have more personal meaning, he walked away from the world of high-powered law after several years to join the EPA, work about which he felt passionate and proud.

Fortunately for us, he wandered his way toward Touchstone, where he was a member for over twenty years. Steve loved being part of this co-op, as it provided him with a vibrant artist community and the freedom to paint whatever and however he wanted. He was deeply devoted to Touchstone, serving as our Board president twice, giving money to the gallery when funds were short and providing free legal advice when needed. He took pleasure in supporting young new artists. One year, there were two particularly excellent candidates for the Touchstone Fellow and funding available for only one. Steve quietly made a donation to cover the dues for this second candidate.

Steve had a bold, chunky style of painting still lifes and portraiture, sometimes using a brush, sometimes a kitchen spatula; well-defined blocks of color. More recently he composed his “Blurry Lines” series which were gauzier abstract landscapes, some reminiscent of images from his rural Wisconsin childhood. Trees comprised of blocks of color balanced on trunks like popsicle sticks, and his palette of lime greens, icy pastel blues and cotton-candy pinks pull his viewers back in time with him. I recall Steve describing this series, explaining that he was trying to capture the experience of landscapes seen quickly going by from the backseat window of a car.

While the nostalgia in these landscapes stands out, there is hidden nostalgia in his portraiture; some of the faces he painted were friends and relatives he had known and loved earlier in his life, and others were strangers with a gesture or expression that caught his attention in his wanderings through Paris and Morocco. The people he painted sometimes have a thoughtful look in the eyes, sometimes sadness, sometimes contemplation, sometimes defiance, and other times distance. His portraits have a cubist quality, geometric, suggestive, overlaid with squares of color; yet they are softer, more humane and human, more whimsical and joyous than, say, the severe distortions of Picasso. So too are many of his abstract works where huge fuzzy rectangles bump playfully into one another.

Steve rarely used text in his work; however, he recently added to a portrait a portion of a poem by the Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi. In English, it reads:

The body of a bird in your mouth breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes, utterly naked.
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?

From Steve’s artistic eye, from the voice with which he painted spilled out deep longing, the longing for the people he loved, the land on which he was raised, and the world he never tired of exploring.

He will be greatly missed as an artist and as a friend.”

-- Dana Brotman