Charles Steffen, born in Chicago in 1927, is one of those Art Brut creators who, like Louis Soutter, started out as art students before mental illness took them further, deeper, elsewhere – to a place far removed from cliché, where genius and madness intermingle, here pain occasionally gives rise to beauty. Charles Steffen enrolled at the Chicago Institute of Design in 1949, but soon fell prey to crazed fits, burning all his paintings and threatening suicide. He dropped out of his studies when he had a nervous breakdown at the age of twenty-three; he was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was admitted to the Elgin State Hospital two years later. He was in and out of hospital until 1963, being treated with electroconvulsive therapy. This left him unable to hold down a steady job, so he moved in with his mother, rarely leaving the house from then on. He spent his days working on his art, sometimes completing more than three works a day on 2.5-metre-long rolls of kraft paper or sheets of paper glued together, working in graphite and coloured pencil. Each work was a piece in the jigsaw of his life. His main subjects were uprooted flowers, self-portraits, portraits of his mother, and bodies covered in reptilian skin. Like Wölfli and Darger, Steffen used writing and drawing interchangeably. He would write down his thoughts, his memories of art school, and his life at the psychiatric institute, commenting on his daily activities and noting down his opinions of life, religion, and the world.
Charles Steffen died in 1995, less than a year after his mother. He is one of the major discoveries of American Art Brut in recent years, on a par with Henry Darger, Martin Ramirez, and James Castle.
Charles Steffen, Collection de l’art brut de Lausanne, Suisse, 23 mai - 29 septembre 2013
charles steffen, l'autre maître de Chicago à la galerie christian berst du 19 octobre au 24 novembre 2012.
Charles Steffen, Drawing Nudes Is Like Saying A Prayer, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2010
Life Lines: The Drawings of Charles Steffen, The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, 2010
Art Forum Berlin, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2010
Charles Steffen: Nudes/Portraits/Flowers, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago, 2008-2009
Charles Steffen, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2007
Charles Steffen, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Chicago, 2006
à deux, zola gallery, aix-en-provence, from january 17th to march 7th, 2020.
le mur, oeuvres de la collection Antoine de Galbert, La miason rouge du 14 juin au 21 septembre 2014
"slick art fair paris", sur le stand de la galerie christian berst, Le Garage du 17 au 21 octobre 2012.
NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition, Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, New York, 2010
In Through the Out Door, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2009
In the No, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2009
Art Forum Berlin, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2009
Art Brussels, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2009
Salon du Dessin Contemporain, Andrew Edlin Gallery , New York, Galerie christian berst, Paris, 2009
Salon du Dessin Contemporain, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, 2008
Art Brussels, (Andrew Edlin Gallery), Belgique, 2007
Outsider Art Fair, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, Andrew Edlin Gallery , New York, 2007
Docks Art Fair, (Andrew Edlin Gallery), Lyon, 2007
Fine Art Cologne, (Andrew Edlin Gallery), Cologne, 2007
Outsider Art Fair, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, New York, 2006
l'art brut, martine lusardy, citadelles & mazenod, paris, 2018.
art brut, collection abcd/Bruno Decharme, catalogue d'exposition à la Maison Rouge (17 octobre 2014 - 18 janvier 2015), Ed, Flammarion, Paris, 2014.
Le mur, oeuvres de la collection Antoine de Galbert, catalogue d'exposition de La maison rouge (14.06 au 21. 09. 2014), textes d’ Antoine de Galbert, Anaël Pigeat, Sophie Delpeux, Paris, Editions Fage, La maison rouge, 2014.
Lucienne Peiry (sous la dir. de), L'Art brut 24, Collection de l’Art Brut Lausanne, co-édition Collection de l'Art Brut et Infolio, Lausanne, 2013.
Charles Steffen, l’autre maître de chicago, (catalogue d’exposition, galerie christian berst, 16 octobre au 24 novembre 2012), textes de Christian Berst, Paris, galerie christian berst, 2012.
Arte bruta, terra incognita, catalogue d’exposition, (collection Treger-Saint Silvestre Lisbonne, 20 Avril 2012 au 23 Septembre 2012 à la Fondation Arpad-Szenses – Viera Da Silva), textes de Christian Berst, Marina Bairrao Ruivo, Antonio Saint Silvestre, Paris, lelivredart, 2012.
Review in New Yorker, February 15 & 22, 2010.
Ken Johnson “Review” in New York Times,, January 29, 2010.
Melissa Stern, "No Means Yes" in New York Press,, May 20, 2009.
“Andrew Edlin Talks about Charles Steffen” in Art and You,, April 2, 2009.
Michael Bonesteel, "Alligator people, one-eyed nudes and the creation of cartoon brut", in Raw vision n° 62, spring 2008.
Nick Stillman, "Charles Steffen" in Artforum International, Summer 2007.
Thomas Röske, Bettina Brand-Claussen, Gerhard Dammann, Collecting Madness, Outsider Art from the Dammann Collection, Heidelberg, Wunderhorn, 2006.
selective press review
- charles steffen, l'autre maître de chicago authors Bénédicte Philippe in Télérama Sortir, Novembe 21 2012.
- Charles Steffen authors Philippe Godin in Paris Art, November 9 2012.
- Charles Steffen authors Gilles Bounoure in Tout est à nous, November 8 2012.
- Charles Steffen authors Marie C. Aubert in La Gazette de Drouot, October 26 2012.
- ailleurs pour amateurs exclusivement authors Philippe Ducat in Oh cet echo, October 22 2012.
- Exposition Rentrée 2012 à la Galerie Christian Berst à Paris authors in Foxoo, l'actu de Paris, October 2 2012.