The Storytelling Art of Steve Head
By Savanah Mandeville
Haidee and Allen Wild Center for the Arts
Cottey College, Nevada, Missouri
Oct. 11-Nov. 3, 2018
Glore Psychiatric Museum
3406 Frederick Ave, St. Joseph, Missouri
Nov. 29, 2018-June 2019
We all have some skeletons in the closet.
While most of us feel inclined to lock the door and throw away the key, artist Steve Head believes there is power in flinging the door open and letting the skeletons come dancing out.
“Many of us bear inward scars and unhealed spiritual wounds that can go a lifetime unseen by the rest of the world,” Head said. “My goal as an artist is to create visual expressions of those unseen places of the heart and connect our hearts to those around us.”
Much of Head’s mixed-media artwork deals with difficult topics like mental illness, addiction, poverty and abuse, and he draws primarily on his own experiences and family history.
He created his first mixed-media piece in 2012. It is titled “Lost and Found: The Redemption of Mary Louisa McBroom.”
“Lost and Found” tells the story of Head’s grandmother, whose life ended in suicide in an Oklahoma mental hospital in December 1943. The circumstances surrounding her death were shrouded in secrets until 2012 when Head did some genealogical digging and was able to track down his grandmother’s medical records. It was then he learned of her years in the institution and her suicide.
“I felt compelled to tell her story,” he said. “It was a sad story and, to many, a shameful story. But it needed to be told. She deserved it.”
“Lost and Found” depicts images of McBroom as a teenager and at approximately age 50. The contrast between the photos shows her struggle as a mother of 12 children during the Great Depression. It also features newspaper clippings exposing the conditions of the mental hospital.
Head first showed “Lost and Found” at Spiva Center for the Arts just two months after its creation. He received such an overwhelming response to the piece, he was inspired to do more visual storytelling.
“I began telling stories using mixed media and digital collage that incorporated vintage black-and-white photos and family genealogy,” he said. “The photos are of real people and real events and include subjects like mental illness, early-onset Alzheimer’s, substance abuse, poverty and emotional trauma.”
Head began showing his work locally to much critical acclaim. He was even named Artist of the Year by Downtown Joplin Alliance in fall 2012, his first season showing his work.
After that, Head’s career as an artist took off.
His work has been featured in several regional newspapers, magazines and on television. He won the Excellence in Mixed Media award at the 19th Annual Thomas Hart Benton Four State Regional Art Competition. His work was featured in the September 2014 issue of Mixed Media Magazine, a digital magazine with worldwide publication. Head’s piece, “I Am The Wretch,” was selected for a juried show called The Art of Recovery in Detroit, Michigan, in 2015. “I Am The Wretch” won the Jurors Award.
But Head said, for him, creating art isn’t about winning awards or getting recognition. It’s about shedding light on topics hidden in the dark. It’s about inspiring others to share their own stories.
“When I watch the people at my art shows and exhibits, I am always amazed at the powerful impact these works have on them,” he said. “Many times, the artwork provokes wonderful, engaging and transparent conversations. People seem to connect their own stories and hearts to mine. And that, I believe, is what art should be about.”