Shayam Korey Steckle is a self-taught contemporary abstract and landscape painter who works with acrylics., cut out and collage, watercolour, and graphic design. His introduction to the art world began with music. His first art pieces were cut out and collage for his CD covers.
Korey was born in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh on the doorsteps of an orphanage. Adopted at four months old by his Mennonite parents he has always felt that he views the world through two sets of distinctive eyes, one of South Asian ancestry and the other a western influenced mindset. Korey was raised in Kitchener-Waterloo, but has also lived in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Nelson, Glace Bay and Kenora to name but a few Canadian locales and is currently residing in Guelph, Ontario.
I had been somewhat familiar with Korey’s work before, but we connected after Art on the Street 2018 (Guelph) where he was named Best Emerging Artist. Earlier this year I visited him at his studio in Guelph for a chat about his artistic process, his inspirations, plans for the future and more.
Did you always want to be an artist? Did you even know that was an option?
I wanted to be a film director. I wanted to direct film, but as far as branching off further into painting and such other mediums, no. At the time I believed that a director encompassed the title of artist, but I didn't see it further than that. I also had considered becoming an independent war photographer.
Do you do this full-time?
I do. I've got many stepping stones to achieve and reach but this is one of them.
As a full-time artist, what is your typical day like?
I wake up around 5:30 am. I use that time to mentally prepare to walk into my studio. I don't pick my head up off the pillow and go straight in here. I get myself ready, I'm making coffee. Before I touch any art I go to my day planner to do a little reading to search out an inspirational quote. I usually send a message to my son, he's 10 and lives on the East Coast so there's that long distance relationship for most of the year but we do see each other quite regularly. I sit down and usually take my notebook out and I do some loose sketches to warm up, like an athlete would.
From there I like to do a little bit of reading. Right now I'm reading a biography of Diane Arbus the photographer from New York City. I recommend it highly because she's very complex. Her and Nan Goldin are my favourite photographers from that era. I'm fascinated by what they captured, what they were able to see and feel. I read a chapter and I like to take notes at the same time. At one time I probably would just pour it all into the work but I drained myself, I burnt myself out. I find that the balance of doing these other activities it helps to broaden my work and what I put into it. I'm more available to then go in because I'm inspired by what I've been reading. It doesn't always have to be fiction. The majority if it is non-fiction. It's all to do with art history.
Then I go into my work, I start a piece, I complete it and then I have breakfast. I want to have one done. It feels fulfilling to have one done before the hunger pains come on. After that I find it's essential to go outdoors. I go for a walk or a bike ride. There's many parks and trails around here. I love Guelph for that. I listen to music while I'm out there. I get out anything that's bothering me through exertion. When I come back, I'm clear. I clean up and then I get right back into it. As we're talking I realize that all that preparation, it's involved with the process of filling a blank space. I don't think about it ever when I'm in the act of doing it and I don't think about it as I'm doing it. I just sit down and do it, kind of like a jazz musician. Improvisation on the fly. Music is essential. I listen to music at all times when I create. I don't think I've ever created anything in here where music hasn't been on in the background. I haven't tried that yet, but I want to experiment , to push myself into an area where I'm uncomfortable and not used to. I'm big into that these days ever since I read something David Bowie said about not being safe, not falling into safe patterns when creating.
What time do you wrap your day up usually? Do you go until the early hours of the morning?
No. No. Back in the day I pulled all-nighters, but nowadays to ensure that I'm awake at 5, 5:30 am and have that buffer time before I get into the studio, I go to bed at 10, 10:30 pm. 11 is pushing it. By then I'm yawning, really tired. I don't follow that idea of when the mood strikes I'll be in here burning the midnight oil. I like to start the day thinking "what can I create, what is the gift of today going to bring". It takes a lot some days to get in here, but I'm in here Monday to Friday. I'm only now with the help of my friends learning to take a break on weekends and not wake up at 5 or 6. When I'm sitting in my living room on the couch I can see into the studio and I want to get in there and I have to shut the door. I didn't mention it earlier but in the midst of all that I'm not on my island by myself. I'm out socializing with other artists, seeing a counselor to get my stress out in a constructive way...
You mentioned Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus. Is there anyone else that inspires you?
Oh, I've got such a long list! I have a mood board that I put up every month. There's so many but I'll keep it to the top 5. Jack Kerouac, Basquiat, Marcel Duchamp. Nature also inspires me. I travel. I'm on the East Coast quite a bit and I'm by the ocean. I'm by the water daily.
So you've travelled a lot and lived a lot of places. Is your art influenced by location?
It is influenced by my travels and my political interests and my avid participation in politics. We're all influenced in some way by politics.
Very good question. The geographical location is close enough to where I was raised and where I grew up, my roots are there, but here...it's my own space. My son is on the East Coast I could have booked it out there a long time ago. I'm here right now to get my business up and running so that I can eventually move out there and Guelph is a great incubator for that. I've seen so many others here achieve what I want to achieve and get to places where I want to get to and now I'm peers with them. It's just mind-blowing. The community is so supportive. Guelph is so close to Toronto too. I can get on the train in the morning and go the AGO and take a class or be looking at art at the AGO by 10 or 11 am. It's also close if I have an interview at a gallery downtown.
You have a multi-faceted art practice. Painting, collage, music, etc...
Yeah, and now I'm entering into fashion photography. It's my passion and it makes sense. I've been doing collage since I was 15. I've been using fashion magazines as source material. I've been immersed in that side of things as an observer and now I'm ready to delve in. I'm also really interested in working with video installations.
Do all of your different practices inform each other? Is there one you prefer over the other?
I'd say my first true love is painting. If you look around my studio, you'll see there's no painting in here because that's a past passion. I hope to someday go back to that. It does pain me some days that I'm not doing it but it's not there for me right now. I really put all I had into that when I did it at the time. It's the most exhaustive medium I've ever encountered. For myself emotionally it was the most draining, the most taxing. I was trying to do photographically realistic landscapes, not abstracts.
I get the sense that you're a perfectionist.
(Nodding). Indeed I am. My parents passed that on to me. My Dad was an engineer. I had the tools and equipment around me all the time...ruler, drafting board.
What would you say is the highlight of your artistic career so far?
Personally, it's things like when my Grandma puts a piece up in the front foyer of her place. She's 96. Or when my son, mom, or friends do the same. Professionally, there's been a lot. It's hard to pinpoint just one. I'm so grateful.
That's good. You're in a good place if you've got a lot to choose from.
I'd say Art on the Street. That opened the doors so much! The name recognition, the understanding of what I bring to the table. I'd been knocking on doors for so long so to speak, but after Art on the Street, it was like "come on in".
Interestingly, you didn't say anything about when someone buys your art.
No. I'm not in this for any of that. If that happens, wow, I'm really blessed, but it's more spiritual for me. It's kind of my therapy.
About Art on the Street, it's funny how sometimes it's just takes that one thing...like validation or recognition.
I'd been told it was like that since the start and I was like yeah, yeah, whatever, but it's true! An artist is like a child in a way. That recognition just makes you want to go back into the lab and make more.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creatives?
Don't constrain yourself to what you began with, what broke you. Don't let that encompass you and be the be all and end all of you. You're just tapping into things. One medium opens a door to another. Sometimes I'm mixing different mediums together. Or if I get stale in one, I'm thankful that I can dip into other fresh pools.
What's next for you?
A few artists that I look up to are looking to collaborate with me. It's quite gratifying and exciting.
Did you go to them or did they come to you?
Vice-versa. A few came to me and it's usually mutual.
One other point would be the fashion photography. I'm lining up models to start shooting and working with. I'm building a schedule. The main goal is to show a series of works that are black and white photography of different models and show that at a gallery in downtown Toronto or New York City or something like that. I've got high goals and lofty expectations of myself.
I don't see an end to it. I just see beginnings, opening doors. It's not like one thing ends. My photography will influence my collage, etc. Another project I'm talking about with my artist friend Nicole (she's a jeweller) is translating my collage art into jewelry and wearables. A lot of people are excited about that. We're just in the early stages.
Then I've also got my current show schedule. I'm going to start selling online this year. The time just seems right. I wasn't comfortable for the longest time being a part of the art gallery or museum scene. I've come full circle in a lot of ways in life, in acceptance and understanding. I have a lot of ideas and politics about how art should fit in, how art is placed and the value of art. They say you can judge a society by how they treat their artists. A dream for me now to would be to work for a big fashion company like McQueen or something like that and do an ad campaign for them. Now this is me who is against marketing and advertising but it is art unto itself.
Every day is a new adventure to seek out and develop my skills.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by the artist
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