high 'o stevo (2001)
(image manipulated by heather howe
from a photo by todd v. wolfson)





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sTeVo iN yR sAgA...

I came into this life with many gifts, the greatest of which being artistic talent. It's not something I chose or questioned -- it's just something that was. I was aware of being an artist from as early as I can remember.

My mother provided art supplies for my brothers and I at a fairly early age and we all showed a great interest. We had crayons, watercolors, pads of drawing paper, colored construction paper and crepe paper which we loved to create with. We were also exposed to music, movies, television, and museums.

(Todd, Stevo & Rick - 1963)

My first art controversy took place in 1963 at the age of 5 while attending The Rouhlac Colonial Kindergarten in Memphis, Tennessee. I got in trouble for drawing pictures of God!!! Mrs. Rouhlac destroyed my pictures, which, I recall, looked somewhat like ghosts. She stated, "you do not draw pictures of God," as her justification for confiscating my images. This was my earliest experience of artistic rejection and censure.

By 1965, at age 7, I was in second grade attending Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was not a very well behaved or cooperative student. I never really liked having to conform to any institution. In fact, I was a class clown, always disrupting with my smart ass sense of humor. But I lived for art class, for here I was in my element. My art teacher was Esther Frossard, my first major mentor. I was a very enthusiastic student in art class, bursting with so much energy I had to, often, stand to draw. When I would finish my work I would wander the classroom offering assistance to other, more struggling, students. Once during a teacher-parent conference event I overheard Mrs. Frossard showing my mother a green ceramic piece I had created which she felt was more advanced than even anything any of her six grade students had ever done. I had constructed a clay sphere from flat rings. It was a bit crude, but she was struck by the concept. It was at this point I had my first recognition of my exceptional talent.

It was also during the mid sixties when my older brother Rick got a small portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. I was instantly fascinated with this device and was soon experimenting with altering speeds and reversing the tape to manipulate the sound. Soon I had my own cassette recorder, recording and documenting anything which made sound, including capturing my mother screaming at my brothers and I. However, one of my brothers told her and she forced me to give her the tape. Censured again!

One day in fourth grade, at the age of 9, we were attempting to watch a film in class, but the teacher was having trouble getting the film to project properly. I just happened to sit right next to the 16mm projector and had observed it being threaded on many occasions. The teacher could not seem to figure out the problem, and I, having noticed the loop was not adjusted properly, volunteered to assist, claiming "I think I can fix it!" The teacher, being so fed-up and aggravated at this point was willing to allowed a child an opportunity to solve the problem. I instantly, and easily, with the grace of a professional, re-threaded and projected the film. The teacher was so utterly impressed by my feat, she promptly let the Principal know and I was made an A-V monitor, setting up and projecting films for classrooms throughout the school. I was on my way!

My parents had an 8mm movie camera which they had since my older brother Rick was born, because they had documented our lives on film from birth. Since the first 8mm movie cameras required that you had to run the 16mm film through the camera twice in both directions to expose it all for 8mm use, my dad had the tendency to shoot the first half but not get around to turning the reel around to shoot the other half, any time soon. In 1969 when I was 11 the camera had a half exposed reel of film in it from Thanksgiving. Without even asking permission I took the camera, turned the film over and shot a collection of humorous vignettes with my brothers. I got them to operate the camera when I wanted to be in the scene. I did this again in 1970 -- same scenario -- first half of the roll was Thanksgiving, and again I took the camera and exposed the second half of the film with more humorous bizarreness. I then put these two half reels together to create my first standard length 8mm film. I continued making 8mm films with my friends and kids from the neighborhood, often requiring my younger brother Todd to operate the camera whenever I needed to be in the film.





In 1973, age 15, I chose to attend one of the first voluntarily integrated high schools in the country, Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Tulsa. It was given the best of everything, including a video studio. I jumped at the opportunity to learn video production and began shooting with black and white 1/2" reel-to-reel video equipment. I also had an incredible art teacher, Donna Hohengarten, who was very hip and got me involved with the art scene in Tulsa, including getting me in my first group gallery show, at the Triangle Gallery in May 1975. I was by this time living and breathing art, and learning every type of art I could, from batiking to silk screening.

In my junior year I was taking geometry and not doing well. My geometry teacher informed me I had all the math credits I needed to graduate and suggested I drop the geometry and take an elective and just do something I would enjoy. I decided I would try photography. Brent Hamilton, the photography teacher, informed me that since it was halfway through the school year he could not teach me what I missed from the first semester of Introductory Black and White Photography, but I could take the second semester on a trial basis, based on how I did on my own. By the end of the school year he was so impresssed by my progress, he placed me in his Advanced Color class and I was elected President of the Photography Club during my senior year.

It was very apparent that I loved the multimedia art forms and I naturally progressed into each new medium that came along.

By the time I was preparing to attend college I planned on pursuing a career in Filmmaking. I wanted to attend the Art Center College Of Design in San Francisco, until I found out what the tuition cost. It was off to state university for me!





In 1976 I attended The University of Oklahoma School Of Art and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art on 19 December 1980. During my first two years I took all of my non-art related requirements, so my final two years could be devoted wholly to art. The art school was affectionately referred to as 'The Little Red Art School.' I truly excelled and flourished in this environment. I was studying both filmmaking and video production as well as some printmaking and other general art courses. I was so motivate and prolific that the Dean did something he rarely, if ever, did by giving me my own key to the art building so I had 24 hour access to the facility. I was also awarded a Barnett Art Scholarship & Fulbright Scholarship for outstanding academic perfomance.

One of my first important film exhibitions, "lluminate/Enlighten", was a two part screening event in March 1979. Part one, entitled "BLANK" consisted of projecting a 'found' 16mm, mostly underexposed, film with a few light flashes on it, to a blindfolded audience. The audience then discussed their personal experiences of the event. For the second installment entitled "INFINITY" I exposed a super 8mm reel, with magnetic sound stripping, entirely of the sun which completely overexposed the film, rendering it imageless. I then added a very calming, ambient electronic piece by Tangerine Dream entitled "Circulation Of Event" as the soundtrack. The entire length of film was assembled as a loop and projected for the audience with my silent intention that the film would continue with no determined ending. I was amazed at how long the audience sat and accepted this circumstance, as they watched an imageless film that did nothing but gain scratches the longer it was projected. After 30 to 45 minutes members of the audience began to speak about the experience but no one seemed to mind that it wasn't ending. At one point the loop broke but my assistant and I were able to splice the film without interrupting the projection. Finally, after about 2 & 1/2 hours, an audience member tripped over the power cord and caused the plug to become dislodged, creating an abrupt and absolutely tremendous ending to this exhibition.

Eno's audio loop diagram (re-created by siys)

The next important step was inspired from the audio loop diagram on the back cover of Brian Eno's Discreet Music Album. I figured if this worked for audio it could work for video. I began experimenting with a video looping system -- the only obstacle being that video required sync while audio did not. These experiements led to a series of video loop performance pieces incorporating the concept & slogan, 'You are experiencing an experience which is based upon previous experiences. You are now, experiencing the experience of experiencing an experience which is based upon previous experiences. You are now, experiencing the experience of experiencing the experience of experiencing an experience which is based upon previous experiences...'

There is further discussion of my video feedback & looping technique on the video art page of this website.

(moog modular synthesizer)

I then wanted to score my own electronic soundtracks for my video art, so by special arrangement with The University of Oklahoma School Of Music, I was allowed to take the Fundamentals of Electronic Music course (now known as Music Technology) which was only available for music majors.





Next...

It was March of 1981, I had graduated from The University of Oklahoma the previous December and was still living in Norman, Oklahoma earning my living as a DJ at KGOU Radio doing the "Jazz, Straight No Chaser" show weeknights from 9:00 PM until midnight, and doing freelance video production.

I don't even remember his name anymore, but I was doing freelance video work for a man that was from Chicago and he needed to go there for a business trip and to visit family and asked if I would go along to keep him company on the long drive. I had a very good friend living there I had met while attending OU so I agreed to go along.

The day before we left Norman for Chicago I got a brainstorm to visit the Video Department at The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago, so I called them and asked if I could visit while I was there. I was informed school would be out for spring break the week I would be in Chicago, but I could absolutely come visit the facility. They asked me to bring some samples of my video art.

When I visited the Video Dept. at SAIC there was a small group of staff and others who showed me around and told me all about the school and their programs. Finally, they wanted to see my work. I brought my primary Undergraduate work, a 31 minute tour de force depicting why I was an artist called "States Of Mine." I expected to show only about the first 5 minutes, but everyone stood intently watching and we ended up watching the complete piece.

They were very impressed and asked if I had considered attending their Graduate program. I informed them I had truly never considered going to Graduate School and further stated I could never afford to attend a school like SAIC. Nonetheless, they insisted I take and fill out an application to the Graduate program, so I did but never gave it another thought and went on with my life.

Less than a month later I received a Western Union Telegram (never received one before or since) at my home in Norman informing me I had been accepted to the Graduate Program at SAIC and I would be receiving an important letter within a week.

The letter arrived informing me I was awarded a full scholarship!!!

It wasn't hard to make the decision, as you just don't turn down a full scholarship to one of the finest art schools in the world!!!

I gave notice to my job at KGOU and spend the majority of April, my final month in Oklahoma, collaborating on countless video and music projects with my art pals.

By the beginning of May 1981 my family and I were living in Chicago!

I attended The School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago on a full Trustee Scholarship based on artistic merit from September 1981 through May 1983, earning a Master Of Fine Arts Degree in Time Arts. Time Arts are all the newer multimedia art forms that require the audience view the art for a specific time dictated by the length of the piece. This includes Film, Video, Audio and Performance Art. While attending SAIC my primary areas of study were Video Art & Video Synthesis, Electronic Music & Sound Synthesis, and Multimedia Performance Art.

Creating video loop art with Sandin Image Processor in the SAIC Video Studio, circa 1982


As has always been my tendency, I prefer to learn through experimentation and self discovery, not from formal instruction, therefore I rarely attended my instructional classes. Luckily, my academic advisor was my Video Art Professor, the late Barbara Latham. She completely understood and supported my modus operandi and was, therefore, my greatest mentor at SAIC!

A few of my other Professors had a bit more difficulty accepting my refusal to attend classes.

For example...

(unknown woman patching modular synthesizer)


My Electronic Music & Sound Synthesis Professor was Robert Snyder. His method of testing at the end of the Novice course to determine if we progressed to the Advanced course, was to individually schedule students for a one hour exam where he would have a written 'sound synthesis configuration' on the board when we arrived, and he would observe as we attempted to work out the solution on a huge, modular EMU synthesizer. (This is the original type of synthesizer that required you use audio cables to 'patch' your sound configurations.)

When it was my turn, I arrived and found my configuration on the board and set about solving it. At the end of the hour I had not completely resolved the configuration, at which time Bob informed me that because I had failed to come to class he had purposely given me a configuration that he was sure would be too complex for me to work out. However, he stated he was quite impressed by how far I got and that I had been on the right track in approaching the solution. I, therefore, passed and was allowed to enroll in the advance class!



48 hour marathon recording session @ saic electronic sound studio
23-24 april 1983


The audio for Synoid was recorded at the 48 hour marathon recording session.



When choosing courses for my final semester I had one more elective and pondered taking the Computer Video course. I always figured you had to be some sort of scientist to work with computers, so I had steered clear of them, but this was my 'last' semester of my entire formal education and I thought, "What the hell, I'm going for it!"

As was par-for-the-course for me, other than attending the first class or two to find out, at least, where the power switch was on the computer, I did not attend class! I followed my standard m.o. and figured the thing out on my own!!!

When you are a graduate student you have a 'show' at the end of each semester to be evaluated on your progress. Much of the graduate program consists of taking many studio hours for each area of study in order to have the time required to create art pieces in these complex and time consuming practices.

About a week before my 'final' (and most important) graduation show, my Computer Video Professor, Drew Browning, approached me and stated, "I know you are 'expecting' to graduate in one week, but I don't see how I can pass you when you haven't attended class." I suggested that he save his final judgment until after he witnessed my graduation show.

For my final show I create a multimedia performance piece that incorporated all of the areas I had studied over the previous two years!

I will describe it for you....



The room is in complete darkness....

A lush, heavenly, electronic music piece fills the room and hugs your soul...

The image of a celestial, spinning, body appears...

The body slowly rises high into the air, lingers there, then slowly descends...

The image disappears...

The music fades...

And finally, the light go on...

End of performance!



Drew found me after the performance and informed me I had passed!!!

Here's how I created the video & computer portions of the piece...

The celestial body was created using computer animation and video feedback, displayed on four large color monitors stacked one on top of the other on a hydraulic lift. The head was created using video feedback. I later used a portion of this footage in a video art piece called "Synoid." A still photograph and 30 second QuickTime movie excerpt is available for viewing on the video art page. The shoulders to stomach, stomach to knees, and knee to feet sections were created using computer graphics and animation. Each section spun, but in opposite directions. These spinning body sections were created by digitizing complete body rotations in sixteen steps. The individual images were then highly manipulated using computer processing and given an aura of cosmic particles.

The hydraulic lift, on loan from The Art Institute of Chicago Museum was used to hoist the monitors about 20 feet into the air. I later learned that several of the Professors were completely freaked out during the performance, thinking the monitors were going to come crashing down!!


SAIC Media Center 1983
Polaroid courtesy of Robert Johnson





And now in the present...

I have spent more than two decades creating computer generated art and have, almost exclusively, made a living from these skills in my professional work!

I am currently teaching at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Chicago.





freelance artist - circa 1995





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