Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rekindling His Artistic Fire
New chapter for Renfrew artist Jack Stekelenburg

Renfrew artist Jack Stekelenburg stands beside Speak No Evil, one of his works on display at the Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery in Ottawa.

A framing contractor by trade, Jack Stekelenburg anticipates the day he’s a full-time artist.

Like many artists, he has faced stumbling blocks, challenges that left him wondering where his art was headed.

His shaggy blonde hair and dancing eyes leave the impression he’s younger than his real age of 59. As an artist he’s even younger, but confident he’s finding his artistic way.

Interested in art for years, he didn’t formally pursue art until 2005, when he took a welding course with Bob Nigro in the Burnstown area. Most of Stekelenburg’s work is now sculpturing with steel, although he also does abstract work on canvas.

He went to the welding course thinking about making garden sculptures; he left realizing he had the soul of a true abstract artist, and was soon creating most of his work from a wide selection of industrial and farm implements.

He has garnered major inspiration from Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali and David Smith, who’s generally regarded as the greatest American sculptor of the 20th century, and many friends and critics.

But 2010 and 2011 were quieter for Stekelenburg on the artistic front.

His marriage ended a few years ago, as his art took a backseat.

“I was the one who abdicated. I put my friends and my art on the backburner.”

However, he was recently encouraged by an artist-friend to show his work to an Ottawa art gallery.

The move paid off. Stekelenburg now has about 20 sculptures or paintings at Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery in Ottawa and a small number of pieces at Brushstrokes Gallery in Carleton Place.

Steel is often a centrepiece of his work, but not in steely, static ways.

For example, many of his sculptures present human faces and emotion, including The Beautiful Lady with the Bright Red Lips, which is at Mills’ gallery. There’s also his outdoor sculpture of a young, happy youngster with jelled hair that the Renfrew-area owner calls The Brylcreem Boy.

But everyone appreciates art, even if some people tell you otherwise, says Stekelenburg.

“We all see and recognize art in our own way, whether it’s snow on a tree, a poem on the radio, or a children’s play on stage.”

That’s why parents should give their children’s art the same precious attention they give any other art works at home. Frame your children’s work and put them in a special place, he says, because that acceptance represents the essence of love.

Stekelenburg grew up in Renfrew, before moving to southwestern Ontario in 1969 and raising a family. He came back to the Ottawa Valley several years later.

Some of the first ideas for his own art work came while living west of Ottawa, in Munster, where the Stekelenburg household had a property with perennial gardens and fish ponds.

After returning to Renfrew in 2003, he thought he wanted to do garden sculptures. After taking the welding course with Nigro, his art production took off in other directions, in keeping with his new identity as an abstract artist.

“My sculptures, at the beginning, weren’t great,” he admits.

“They were clumsy, perhaps, but they grew,” he adds, giving credit to the Renfrew Art Gallery and family members for their feedback. He gained particular motivation from Hugh Malcolm, who continues to paint despite his own battle with Parkinson’s.

Stekelenburg didn’t renew his own artistic enthusiasm in 2011, but he says he always retained the belief system that he read about, as a teenager, in Ralph Emerson’s essay on self-reliance. Emerson wrote about the need for each person to avoid conformity and false consistency, and to follow his or her own instincts and ideas.

John Patrick Mills, owner of John Patrick Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, likes how many of the Renfrew artist’s ideas have materialized.

Mills says Stekelenburg’s art possesses that purity and integrity. “He’s a good artist. He’s got a lot of talent.

“The economy is not the hottest right now, but I know his work will sell,” says Mills. He says Stekelenburg’s work, unlike that of many artists, isn’t pretentious and it’s very diverse.

Stekelenburg sure hopes so, as he works on his 15 Faces, Mountain, Yin-Yang and Love series. The first in the Love series is a metal sculpture depicting the word for love in Chinese calligraphy.

The Mountain series will garner motivation from his visit to Nepal in 2008, and possibly from a planned trip to the mountains of Argentina later this year.

“I have ideas for series to work on, major pieces that are in my head waiting to be created, and pieces that have been started and need to be finished; some are small and some are quite large,” says Stekelenburg.

His large completed pieces, Speak No Evil and Blue Eye, stand in Mills’ outdoor sculpture garden. Stekelenburg will also be profiled in the gallery’s I Love You show that runs Jan. 19 to Feb. 25.

The vermissage is Feb. 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. The Ottawa gallery, at 286 Hinchey Ave., is open noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, visit

This article appeared in Your Ottawa Region

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