Oscar-Winner Steve McQueen On ‘Truth’ In Art
More than the sum of his film work – most notably the critically acclaimed Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years A Slave – the British-born Steve McQueen is also a distinguished visual artist. His works include sculpture, photography and video art.
McQueen’s approach shuns simplicity, challenging people to think deeply about race, ethnicity, and the nature of human conflict.
Unlike his more recent feature films, many of McQueen’s short video works are black-and-white and projected in highly controlled environments. In Bear, part of Tate permanent collection in London, two naked men, one of whom is McQueen, spar in silence. Illumineer shows McQueen lying on a hotel bed, lit only by images of war flickering on a television screen, his dark black skin a sharp contrast to the stark white bed sheets.
Although he is featured in the short films, the Tate Museum asserts McQueen, who’s received Britain’s highest honor in the arts, is not the point of the films.
“In underemphasizing the importance to his films of his own presence,” the Tates’ website reads, "McQueen avoids questions of identity and racial politics that are often imposed on his work, reinforcing a characteristically open approach to meaning.”
Steve McQueen was in Snowmass, Colorado for a symposium at the Anderson Ranch focusing on artists whose work confronts social injustice. He dismissed the idea of his being an artist “Making The Change They Want To See” – the title of the symposium – as “presumptuous.” McQueen discussed his art, feelings on the conference and a 2003 project that still resonates today in an interview that aired on Morning Edition.
On “Making The Change They Want To See” with art
“It’s not that courageous at all. What it is about is trying to tell the truth within work, within art. That’s what an artist, I feel, should be doing. Looking at some sort of idea of what truth is as such or trying to. It is absolutely unobtainable but it’s the whole point and whole purpose, I think, of art. If it is to present something, which is beautiful or if it is to present something which is ugly, or present something which is uncomfortable, well then so be it.”
On his latest project, a series of postage stamps bearing portraits of deceased soldiers titled Queen and Country
“Unfortunately it’s still in the air. There was an early day motion presented in Parliament where people were debating in Parliament the idea of it being an actuality. It was a very interesting debate but up until now it has come to nothing. But I am hoping at some point that someone with a bit of courage will realize the project.”
On what art can do
“Art is this one area which isn’t politics, which isn’t the media, and these are the two most powerful influences, or manipulators as such, they are where we get our knowledge from. I think with art it give us another outlet. It’s another consciousness. It is another way of examining or, sort of, investigating certain things which are around us.”
Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO.