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Novelist and Cartoonist Peter Steiner Exhibits His Paintings

February’s Featured Artist at the Norfolk Library


By Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo

There don’t seem to be enough creative expressions to satisfy Sharon resident Peter Steiner. His life path took him from college professor to cartoonist to novelist, with lots of painting along the way.

Steiner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and attended University of Miami in Florida before serving in the army, stationed in Germany. He completed graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and was then offered a professorship at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. After teaching German at the small liberal arts school for eight years, Steiner moved to Georgia, then Virginia, and finally moved to Sharon, Conn. in 2003.

He submitted his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1979, a publication that went on to publish upwards of 400 Steiner cartoons—no small feat considering the hundreds of submissions the publication receives from cartoonists every week. His 1993 “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog” cartoon is the magazine’s most widely produced cartoon ever. His cartoons also regularly appeared in the Washington Times and The Weekly Standard. It’s been four years since Steiner’s last submission. “To be honest, I don’t even understand what they’re selecting for cartoons these days, and you can’t make a living off it,” says Steiner.  

His first art show at the Norfolk Library, in 2012, featured several paintings of the High Line in New York City. The upcoming show’s paintings are in the same style, but the subject matter has shifted to landscapes, mostly farms, and figure paintings. Steiner received no formal training in the arts, and does all his painting inside his home studio. Sometimes he’ll paint from a photo, but mostly the paintings just come from within the artist’s mind with no preliminary sketches or forethought.

His process changes from painting to painting, but he prefers to start with an already  paint-covered canvas. He picks up old canvases and paintings from the dump, and paints on top of them. Sometimes he covers the old painting entirely, other times he allows a little something from the original artwork to show through. “It’s all intuitive, so I guess I work the way an abstract painter does. The trick for me is to know when to stop.”

When Steiner does start with a new canvas, he puts down a rough first layer of paint with all the wrong colors, and then the work of the new painting begins. He generally uses a lot of black, red or brown for the base colors. Some of his paintings are completed entirely with a palette knife, and never see a brush stroke. “My whole objective is to have a good time,” says Steiner.

The same goes for his writing. He doesn’t do any plotting or forethought, just lets the story flow. He started writing in the early 1990s, and has written five novels since then, all with the same protagonist—divorcé Louis Morgon, who was forced out of the CIA for political reasons and moved to France, but his past keeps coming back to haunt him. “This character just keeps speaking to me,” says Steiner, “he lives in my mind and in a lot of ways is more real to me than real people.”

When his last novel, “The Capitalist,” came out last spring, Steiner set right back to work—this time on a graphic novel called “An Atheist in Heaven,” that quickly grew to 148 pages. This self-published tome of drawings will be available for sale at his upcoming show.

The impending Trump presidency inspired Steiner to do some political paintings as well. He has two brilliant representations of Trump that will hang in an upcoming show at Vassar College. Steiner is also resurrecting his long dormant cartoon blog, which can be found at www.plsteiner.com/blog.

A selection of Steiner’s recent paintings will hang at the Norfolk Library from January 29 to March 1. An opening reception for the artist will be held on Sunday, January 29 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Photo by Peter Steiner.

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