I'm back to reading the obituaries and ran across this one via the NYTImes...
Steve Wolfe, an internationally renowned artist whose best-known works are books — or are they? — died last month at his home in San Francisco. He was 60.
Mr. Wolfe died alone, and neither the precise date, circa May 13, nor the precise cause, is known, his family said.
A painter and sculptor, Mr. Wolfe brought a postmodern sensibility to the venerable tradition of trompe l’oeil, in which a work seeks to trick the eye by lending the illusion of three dimensions to a two-dimensional surface.
His preferred subject matter was books, singly and by the boxful, their creased, age-stained, sometimes Scotch-taped covers exuding companionable familiarity: “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” by Gertrude Stein; “Farewell, My Lovely,” by Raymond Chandler; James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”; the emblematic “Remembrance of Things Past,” by Proust; and the perhaps even more emblematic “Speak, Memory,” by Vladimir Nabokov.
But though Mr. Wolfe’s screened-printed jacket designs and typefaces impeccably recreated those of the original volumes, his books were not books but paintings — playful, thoughtful one-offs designed to be hung on gallery walls.
As such, they became potent emblems of nostalgia, binding up (although they had no bindings) wistful longing for the beloved bibliographic companions of years gone by.
Reviewing an exhibition of Mr. Wolfe’s work at the Luhring Augustine gallery in Manhattan in 2003, Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times:
“Mr. Wolfe has been creating his bibliographical art for years, and it has not escaped accusations of preciousness. In my view it is saved, even elevated, by its conceptual smarts, which are acute and to which technical finesse is not incidental. Mr. Wolfe offers us work of 20th-century giants of fictional self-scrutiny, James Joyce and Proust among them, but as blocks of unopenable matter.”
“In short, the histories trapped in the work are what warm up the optical tours de force.”
Mr. Wolfe, whose art is in the collections of major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, also turned his hand to the fondly remembered long-playing records of his youth.
In his versions — rendered on board in oils and enamels — the labels have been faithfully reproduced and the well-worn grooves painstakingly incised by hand.
He also made three-dimensional sculptures that mimicked cartons of books — the kind that every student has lovingly toted from pillar to post. With rigorously silk-screened exteriors (Evian, Cutty Sark, Gateway 2000), the open cartons “hold” a profusion of books — in reality only a top, trompe l’oeil layer — in striking mosaic counterpoint.
To some critics, the historical link between Mr. Wolfe’s art and Andy Warhol’s sculptural reworkings of Brillo boxes was a foregone conclusion. Mr. Wolfe disavowed the connection.
“People have this really dim memory of the Brillo boxes,” Mr. Wolfe told The Houston Chronicle in 2010. “They were literally wood cubes with no flaps, no nothing. They were painted with a roller and then silk-screened with a very basic design, and they really don’t look like Brillo boxes at all. Everybody has this memory of them being very realistic objects, but they’re not.”
Steven Marc Wolfe was born on May 29, 1955, in Pisa, Italy, where his father, an Army officer, was stationed. He showed talent for drawing as a child and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mr. Wolfe began making his bibliographic artworks more than 20 years ago. Over time, with the relentless advance of the digital frontier, they became unanticipated, elegiac commentaries on the waning of print.
“The fact that the technology has changed completely and that these things are becoming artifacts is a completely unexpected dimension to what I’m doing,” he said in the Chronicle interview. “I mean, in the mid-’80s I had no idea that was going to happen.”
Mr. Wolfe’s survivors include his mother, Ruth Zimmerman Wolfe; two brothers, Brian and Michael; and two sisters, Karen Stotsky and Donna White.
His art is also in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art and elsewhere.
Mr. Wolfe also produced a body of works on paper — many of them studies for his “books.” They were the subject of a one-man show at the Whitney in 2009, which later toured nationally.
Because Mr. Wolfe’s work was so exquisitely personal, an inevitable question arose among viewers: Had he read all the books he made?
For the most part, he replied. But one work on paper supplies a fuller answer. Entitled “Study for Unread Books,” it depicts a small stack of volumes.
At the top of the stack, Mr. Wolfe gave pride of place to “Moby-Dick.”
It seemed appropriate to paint his portrait on a book cover. The fact that he died alone and no one knows the exact date of his death nor the cause made me extra sad. May we reach out to those around us and may no one feel all alone for we are all here together.
See his work here.