I learned last week that artist Steve Wolfe passed. There was a notice on Artforum.com, though like Steve's thoughtful labor intensive work, it slipped into the stream of information with little fanfare. His extremely convincing facsimiles of books and records, elements of culture that define who we are, always had a way of seeming like they were objects that were close to me-- titles that spoke of a generation of thinkers. He lived in San Francisco, but also worked under the radar. I recalled writing a review of his work years ago, so dug for it in my archives of my hard drive. This was part of a two-show review that appeared in SF Weekly in July 1994. The other show was called "Special Collections," hence the concluding line.
"The selective spirit also emerges from Steve Wolfe's remarkable works on paper at the luminous new Daniel Weinberg Gallery. Wolfe's literate renderings of book covers and vinyl record albums bear the markings of obsessive attachment along with the yearning to restore human dignity to the mass produced. They are a deft combination of form and content. Wolfe's mixed media work is initially misleading— they look just like actual book jackets. The Untitled (Studies for New Directions), for example, frames together a series of lit classics, grouped by publisher. Like half-finished mock-ups from the publisher's art department or books frayed with use, the cover designs for titles by Flaubert, Borges, Nabokov, Mishima and others, bring to mind immediate smarty pants connotations. They're all those books you meant to read, but let fade on the coffee table.
In other pieces Wolfe recreates an arrangement of spines and covers that approximate the haphazard juxtapositions found on unkempt shelves. (They're actually studies for sculpture ofthree-dimensional volumes placed in cardboard “product” boxes that are also rendered by the artist.) One, for example, evocatively links a Warhol title with an children's undersea adventure.
Wolfe's choices of record subjects are equally astute and breathtakingly rendered. The untitled works depicting Gertrude Stein Reading, Side 2, Society's Child by Janis Ian, or Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? have a monolithic, award-like presence that only intensifies when you realize they were created with oil paint and black enamel grooved with the point of a compass. The labor intensive trompe l'oeil tricks employed here spin into conceptual areas that push jeering appropriation into gracious new territory. The meanings attached to these works may not be entirely obvious, but you just know they're something special. "