The year 2017 is significant to Spruce Head artist Robert Steinmetz because it marks the time when his twenty-seven years as a full-time painter equals the previous twenty-seven years that he worked as a professional architect. Reflecting upon this pivotal year, Steinmetz also recognizes that both careers relied upon his drawing and painting skills, which began in his childhood. Therefore, his singular life-long passion for creating art has been satisfied in two ways.
Born and raised on the north shore of Long Island, N.Y., Steinmetz faced many serious challenges in his youth. He contracted a form of polio (from which he eventually recovered), and that same year his brother died. The family struggled to regain their footing—and Bob found a measure of stability in drawing and painting.
As a young man, Steinmetz needed to select a course of study to forge a career. It was his father, a graduate of Cornell University, who set Steinmetz on the path that “opened doors for me that I knew nothing about.” Realizing that his young son was a gifted artist, but also that a career in the fine arts might lead to financial instability, Steinmetz’ father decided that he would only pay for architectural schooling for his son at Cornell. At that time, Cornell’s program was design-oriented in the Beaux-Arts tradition, which emphasized sketching, highly finished presentation drawings, close attention to details, and also the use of watercolor paints.
Upon completion of his B.Arch degree from the College of Art, Architecture and Planning at Cornell in 1961, Steinmetz was hired by the architectural firm SMS Architects, PC, in New Canaan, Conn. Over time, he rose to the rank of Vice President and part owner of the firm. There, he was responsible for the design of 140 corporate, institutional, commercial, educational and residential buildings and planning projects. And, all during that time he continued to design, draw and paint. He also learned an important lesson that would govern his future career as an artist: “If you don’t satisfy yourself that you’ve achieved everything you possibly can, then you have to live with whatever you didn’t explore.” Therefore, Steinmetz always seeks the best resolution for whatever challenges he encounters.
By 1990, Steinmetz and his wife made the joint decision to radically change their lives. So, he retired from SMS and they bought a condominium in Bermuda as well as a home in Spruce Head. It was then that Steinmetz decided to become a full-time artist. Rendering watercolor interpretations of colorful Bermuda scenes, it was only one year before his paintings were accepted by the Windjammer Gallery, which sold them nearly as quickly as Steinmetz could paint them. This early success in his career as an artist acted as the catalyst to his present career.
In 1996, Steinmetz’s wife passed away after a long illness. It was three years later that he had the good fortune to meet and marry Pat Ashton, who is very active in the St. George and regional communities. Now, residing in Spruce Head during the summers and South Carolina in the winter, Steinmetz works from two studios. His process for creating a painting is very similar to the disciplined process he used to render architectural drawings, which required thinking through every detail from beginning to end. He explains, “My approach to painting is a diligent, disciplined process in four phases.” During the first phase, Steinmetz finds a subject that appeals to him and photographs it, carefully composing the frame to capture the interplay of structure, shadows and values. Once he is satisfied with the composition of the photograph, he begins the second phase where he projects the image onto watercolor paper and establishes the forms and values in pencil. Moving to the third phase, Steinmetz creates a monochromatic value painting with thinned acrylic paints, which serves as an underpainting. It is in this phase that the artist establishes a strong image that kindles his interest to keep going. The fourth, and final, phase is the application of watercolor paint over the underpainting. At this point, Steinmetz departs from photorealism by imposing his own color sense that often ignores local color in favor of a more dynamic interpretation of the scene.
As a self-taught artist, Steinmetz found inspiration in the works of others such as Henry Roderick Newman, John Singer Sargent, Charles Demuth, and Charles Sheeler. These four renowned artists have in common the use of precision to create strong designs. This masterful style of painting has earned Steinmetz prestigious signature membership in the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society and the North East Watercolor Society. Additionally, his work has earned the top award in notable national and international juried exhibitions, and has been included in publications such as “Splash”, “American Artist” and “Watercolor Magazine.” Additionally, his work has been included in juried biennial exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and the 2013 Shenzhen International Watercolor Biennial in Shenzhen City, China. Steinmetz’ paintings are included in the corporate collections of Ace Insurance, Ltd., the Bank of Bermuda, Duracell USA, MBNA America, and Volvo America to name a few. Presently, he is represented by the Charles Street Gallery in Beaufort, South Carolina. You may view his works at www.thecharlesstreetgallery.com.
—Katharine A. Cartwright
PHOTO: Katharine Cartwright