Venice artist Gary Steinborn makes the world a fun and colorful place
By Nicole Borgenicht
Gary Steinborn was making little colorful dogs by hand before Jeff Koons made the giant dog genre an international hit.
Steinborn’s animals include dogs, elephants and buddha cats. He also has a new collection of owls, incense holder cats, large funeral urns and keepsake urns. The animals have a special life-like charm and make a playful addition to any collection. Steinborn also has produced a series of large female heads.
“I had gotten inspired by Picasso’s oversized heroic scale Greek artifact women,” Steinborn said. “I also like Rodin’s sculpture at LACMA.”
Steinborn realized that small changes can alter the sex and mood of his sculptures, from large heads to various animals that range in size from miniature to 4 feet tall. He was also commissioned to create three colorful ceramic dogs across from the Staples Center on the roof of Circa La building.
“Besides a pool on the roof there’s a dog park, which is where they placed my dogs,” Steinborn said. “My work was commissioned in 2020 by Douglas Hanson and Cody Jenny of Hanson LA Architecture; the dogs were 3 to 4 feet tall. Hanson also was the architect on The Bilbao Museum in Spain and he’d previously been one of Frank Gehry’s chief architects. The Circa LA building is outstanding!”
Steinborn uses bronze glazes and bisque, which is clay that is fired but not glazed – and all colors. “I use a percentage of a glaze colorant then invert the colors and create my own,” Steinborn said. This results in a magical color for each of his animal sculptures.
A longtime Venice resident, Steinborn was also commissioned in 2019 by Venice Family Clinic, which runs Venice Art Walk.
“I made 40 unglazed dogs and 40 artists painted them or changed them in some way, and they were all auctioned off,” Steinborn said. A book was also made of the artists’ renditions.
Steinborn received his bachelor’s degree in art followed by his MFA in ceramics from UCLA. One of Steinborn’s teachers was Chris Burden, a Los Angeles artist who is known for the Urban Light public art sculpture at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“What I learned from Chris is that art takes a lot of different forms,” Steinborn said. “He started as a radical performance artist exploring his person physical limits, and one of the last things he did was the LA lights installation at LACMA, and it’s very public and very romantic. So, I take from that you have to keep working and evolving over your whole life as an artist.”
Steinborn is also known for his skillfully done and often textured vases.
“My Prairie vase series references the Prairie School of Art, where architects made ceramics and the Teco Art Pottery company contracted them to make pottery that was unusually difficult,” Steinborn said. “I like Prairie American art pottery, traditional and Koons-type pop culture.”
Other influences include avant-garde sculptures of Charles Ray, who also taught at UCLA, and American ceramicist Laura Andreson, who Steinborn has worked with.
“She started the UCLA ceramics program, and as an emeritus, she would hire students to help test glazes and aid with her pottery, but she was teaching us!” Steinborn said.
Steinborn remembers years ago when ceramics was considered a crafty art or a cult rather than a respected art form. People knew very little about the process and skill that went into in creating it. One of the players in changing that image was the Craft Museum now called Craft Contemporary.
“The clay pop of NY artist Jeffrey Deitch, and the punk rock artists, graffiti and Native American art of Raven Halfmoon, and Regan Project show of Theaster Gates helped popularize ceramics as an important art form,” Steinborn said.
Steinborn’s domestic partner, Deanna, is a voiceover artist and musician who plays improvisational piano for modern dance. She received her MFA in theater and voice training from the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver. She helps on the artistic and business side, and is always happy to share her thoughts on Steinborn’s work in progress.
“She’s my ceramics whisperer,” Steinborn said.
Steinborn’s ceramics are currently on exhibit at The Vault Art Gallery in Cambria and at Lois Lambert Gallery in Bergamot Station.
Gary Steinborn veniceclay.com