Steve Rockwell

Canadian Artist: (1945- )

Steve Rockwell was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1945 and lived in the outskirt town of Espoo until the age of five. Arriving in Gothenburg, Sweden with his family and eventually settling in the town of Grangesberg, his father here having found his lifelong vocation as a miner, which continued with the family’s move to Canada in 1957. Moves from one mining town of Northern Ontario to another, furnished a rugged natural backdrop to the artist’s life and imagination growing up, one that Canada’s Group of Seven artists had so richly exploited. 

The first formal art training for Rockwell came through artist and teacher Peter Kolisnyk’s summer classes conducted in Elliot Lake, Ontario, and Rockwell’s two years at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. By 1970, the artist had been the co-producer of an art house showing of television commercials premiered at Toronto’s Cinema Lumiere. He joined an artist studio at 567 Queen Street West, taking part in three group “Workscene” exhibitions, as they were dubbed by studio member Jim Tiley. The work tackled minimalist, pop, and conceptual art trends, but in an ironic twist, one of its paintings titled “IT’S ALL OVER” signalled the artist’s 1972 exit from the art scene.

Although Rockwell had resumed his craft privately by 1979, his official return was marked by the 1989 solo exhibition at the Arnold Gottlieb Gallery in Toronto. It was only after this hiatus of 17 years that the present persona of Steve Rockwell emerged. To family and close friends, however, he answers to Jouko Salomaa, his legal Finnish identity. A pivotal 1987 work, “Pick a Number between 1 and 99,” explored the relationship between the public and private, artist and non-artist. That same year, the floor sculpture “Gallery Space” elicited the participation of 64 art galleries in Toronto, and become the vehicle of its own exhibition. Another work, “Color Match Game” pitted two players in an “aesthetic combat,” generating the raw data for making art in the process. Since 1999, “Color Match” tournaments have been played across North America. 

With the publication of the 1996 book work “Meditations on Space, An Artist’s Odyssey through Art Galleries in Europe and North America,” Rockwell’s interest in the gallery as subject was made international. The notated visits to seven art galleries in Zurich, Switzerland; one in Aix-en-Provence, France; twenty-six in Paris; forty-four in New York City; sixty-eight in Los Angeles, CA; and thirty in Toronto, garnered an introduction and base for the founding of dArt International magazine in January, 1989. The 2021 release of a signed, limited edition of dArt was an acknowledgement of the publication’s roots in art making. The mining of dArt content as creative potential continues for Rockwell in his work.


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