Justin Orvis Steimer
zimbabwean spirit

“Traveling is important to expose you to new ideas. Whenever I travel the lines and shapes in my work change. The community that we stayed with (in Zimbabwe) were a group of artists and musicians who are still very in touch with their native an indigenous practice which focuses on the metaphysical. One main belief is their belief in spirits. The spirit of an old ancestor, a patriarch of the village we stayed in was still very much alive and was being channeled through the village Shaman. For me, to visit places where people are already operating on this belief of the metaphysical existence is helpful to my practice. I was able to have access to things I otherwise would not have had because the community was very open to sharing which allowed me to experience something different. I asked if it was ok for me to paint as the Shaman was channeling the ancestor, he said that I could because it was my gift to see things through this unique lens.

The paper works are portraits of spaces, and time spent, in Harare: the women’s kitchen who tirelessly cooked for 18 of us each night; a portrait of Musekiwa while he sculpts a sardonic stone head; the last hours of a goat’s life preparing for slaughter to accompany the ceremony that welcomed us strangers into the intimate folds of the small Zimbabwean village; the “office” of a Shaman with its spirits flying around inside.

“We did another trip to Zimbabwe which allowed me to dive deeper into my own practice. We visited the same village and experienced the Shaman channeling the patriarch of the village again. I was able to focus and draw my interpretation of the energies in the room and I’m now working on refining those pieces.” – Justin Orvis Steimer

sekuru and the guardian spirits III (samaita and sekuru), 2017
pure pigment, ink, oil and acrylic on 1940’s boat sail, 40 × 48 in

sokuru and the guardian spirits II, 2016
pure pigment, oil, acrylic and ink on 1940’s boat sail, 47 × 72 in

sokuru and the guardian spirits, 2015
oil, ink, and acrylic on found tarp, 39 × 66 in

The painting is a product of the spiritual engagement Steimer and the others had during the Residency. The piece is made on a tarp found around the grounds of Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions, CTG’s artists-space host in Harare.

The tarp was already infused with geometry, history, in situ earth, and energy. The marks that form the shapes of the painting were made during a 3.5-hour consultation with Sokuru, the ancestral spirit brought to life by the local healer and medium Jonathan Dube aka Samaita. The work is a testament to the part of the CTG Residency that is often left unsaid, kept safe for those who experienced it to feel its power.

sokuru and the guardian spirits, 2015 (detail)

dzimbanhete kitchen, 2015, pen, watercolor, pure pigment, house paint on paper, 20 × 22 in

samaita, 2015, pen, watercolor, pure pigment, house paint on paper, 24 × 24 in

pink village, 2016, pure pigment, acrylic and ink on paper, 19.5 × 17 in

terrence, 2015, pen, watercolor, pure pigment, house paint on paper, 24 × 24 in

blue beard, 2015, ink, watercolor and house paint on paper, 26 × 26 cm

One day in early 2016, Steimer was bringing a roll of these 5 drawings to the Gallery to be framed before exhibition. When he arrived to the Lower East Side, he first went to lunch with Catinca. Once they returned, he opened the roll and discovered that three of the drawings were gone. They must have fallen out on the subway. He retraced his steps, and low and behold, two drawings were on the subway tracks at Essex Station. Unable to get security to help, Steimer jumped onto the tracks, picked up the works, and climbed back up… risky business.

But blue beard was never found. It was the one drawing that had not miraculously returned home. We joke in the Gallery that the goat (who had been sacrificed in ceremony in Zimbabwe and this is his portrait) ran away and is happy somewhere. His spirit free.

Untitled, 2018, clay and acrylic paint

Justin Orvis Steimer makes 3D canvases using clay from Zimbabwe’s earth. The works are born from the spiritual community’s desire to push the country and its people into a better direction through creativity and energy. Fired by the artist’s own hand, yet having minimal control over the effects of the heat and flames on the color and nuance of the forms, the paintings look to the source of creativity and its links to creation.