Steve Sangapore and the Art of Conceptual Realism

Written by Caroline Browne

Pictured above: Steve Sangapore, Collapse of the Environment #7, 2020, oil and ink on wood panel, 18 x 24”

Pictured: Steve Sangapore with his painting, LIBERATION, from his New Eden series

In this week’s blog we are delighted to feature Co|So artist member and contemporary oil painter, Steve Sangapore. Using vastly different stylistic approaches with various series, his work can be described as an amalgamation of realism, surrealism and abstraction with thematic focuses on the human condition.

Pictured: Steve Sangapore, Collapse: Of the Self, 2018, oil and ink on wood panel, 14 x 11”

After graduating from Albertus Magnus College with a B.A. in Studio Art and Design, Steve Sangapore moved to the Boston area where he has now lived for about seven years. A New England native, Steve has been making art his whole life, and when he wasn’t, he was always doing something creative. “While I have now been painting for about eight years, it was not until four years ago that I started painting with oils - and never turned back.”

Pictured: Steve Sangapore, Collapse: Of the Self #2, 2018, oil and ink on wood panel, 14 x 11”

What draws Steve to oil painting is the range of expressive dexterity that the medium demands, as well as the ability to coherently communicate conceptual themes.

One aspect that all of Steve’s works have in common is the execution that he has termed Conceptual Realism. Each of his series typically has a message and aim of its own and fuses his intellectual interests with his personal story. To articulate the more abstract and intangible concepts he is interested in exploring, the artist incorporates a more contemporary approach to art-making that complements his style of realism. For example, his SUPERPOSITION series employs abstract ink drawing and texture techniques, while his Reflections and New Eden series utilizes reflective mirrors, gold leaf, and other mixed media elements. In short, Conceptual Realism could be considered the fusion of realism painting and conceptual art.

Pictured: Steve Sangapore, REVELATION, 2020, oil and 24k gold leaf on canvas, 72 x 48”

Much of the artist’s intellectual time is spent immersed in his interest in science and religion. He is fascinated by the structures and evolutions of religion, as well as the values and pitfalls of both their followers and critics. “As an increasingly growing fraction of humankind migrates away from traditional religious practices, thoughts, and superstitions, the need for religious experience still remains central to the human condition.” Steve Sangapore created the New Eden painting series to contribute to this existential conversation.

The New Eden series comprises of five large figurative paintings, depicting the most well-recognized character of each major axial religion during one of their transformative life events. In keeping with a concept that each religious figure is a kind of sacred mirror, the artist decided not to render the faces of these figures in the paintings. Instead, the portraits are replaced with those of the viewer by the use of reflective mirrors. “In this dichotomy, the viewer is prodded to question the new role of these prophetic religious figures in an exceedingly modern world.”

Despite not yet being exhibited, the New Eden series has garnered quite a bit of interest and curiosity. According to the artist, the general response has been overwhelmingly positive, with a few exceptions. “I was very aware going into the project that some controversy would be generated when choosing to visually depict religious figures.” But as an artist who creates works made for public consumption, feedback and critique of his paintings is an essential part of the art-making and art-enjoying process.

Pictured: Steve Sangapore, Collapse: Of the Environment #6, 2020, oil and ink on wood panel, 24 x 18”

When posed the question, “Why art?” the artist responded that the pursuit of art-making and creative practice is something that chose him. “I have always felt a deep connection to the human species through the act of painting. At its most fundamental level, painting is the act of pushing around colored piment with a stick. This was one of the earliest forms of communication and expression that our early ancestors employed after the advent of primitive language. The idea that so many modern artists are still deeply drawn to this form of communication speaks to something very deep about how our minds operate on an individual, cultural, and societal level.”

Steve Sangapore’s paintings are currently featured in a joint exhibition with Ponnapa Prakkamakul at Fountain Street Gallery. The exhibition, PHANTASM, explores the artists’ multi-perspective interests in nature and science, and continues through Sunday, May 2nd.