This month we are featuring Steve Mabley for the Capitol Hill Art League’s Mind of the Artist series. Read Steve’s story and check out his artwork below.

You can view more of Steve’s artwork here: 
Night Tacos

As I assume is the case with most children, I was a multimedia artist in the beginning. It waned with age, yet I started college as an art major, to the chagrin of my mother–who struggled as a fashion artist for the Dallas newspaper as a young single woman in the 1940s, and as a homemaker in midlife painted portraits as an avocation. So I’d had exposure to painting through my young life

Los Primos

In my second quarter as a art major, my advisor and a professor advised me that I am no artist; that my paintings were good wallpaper designs. So I switched to major in biology and chemistry, had a career in public health, and never looked back. That is, until I began close in on retirement. What will I do to keep myself occupied and sharp? A second chance at being an artist popped into my head and wouldn’t leave. I took painting classes and mentorships nonstop for two years around my retirement in 2019. I entered retirement with an intention to test myself and see if I could survive as a self-taught artist.

I paint landscapes because I love the outdoors. The raw beauty of nature has always been a fascination, friend, and sanctuary for me. I also relish the vibrant conviviality of DC social spaces,  the social uplift of which can be just as life-affirming and regenerative as nature. My work celebrates both: townscapes and landscapes.  If you render a tree incorrectly, no one notices. But render a face wrong, it’s glaringly obvious. Using this logic I should be painting abstracts, but I don’t know how to begin without a defined subject. I need the world to give me a starting point. 

Potomac Overlook

My teachers in the pre-retirement training push advised painting plein air to develop perception, gesture, brevity, and decisiveness. I like being outdoors anyway, so I tried it and found their predictions accurate. An added benefit of plein air painting: It’s great for publicity and finding interested customers. People really appreciate an artist painting their neighborhood. It is actually a community building activity, I’ve found.

Old Sycamore

Now, six years into this experiment, I am making an income; a very small one: $120/month over expenses this year. Not enough to live on, but at least the ink is black and I’ve learned a lot. I learned that I was both arrogant and naive to think I could do in short order that which some spend their entire lives trying to achieve. I see my experiment as a great success, though. I am exhibiting my work, meeting great people, collectors like and buy my work, and I see that surviving as an artist is possible for me …someday.



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