If you’ve been in Umbellula Café, at the Spook Creek Station, recently, you’ve probably noticed some strikingly unique light fixtures illuminating the landscape. These are the brainchild of Steve Gartner.
Gartner is an electrician employed by the City of Whitehorse … he’s also an artist.
“I’ve been into art since the age of five or six when my Dad used to set up blocks and teach me to draw 3D,” Gartner says.
Gartner carried this love of art through to adulthood and eventually became a graphic artist in Vancouver. There, he became afflicted with something he calls “Starving Artist Syndrome”. In layman’s terms, he was having trouble paying the bills.
This led him to the Yukon and his current profession. But his artistic disposition has never been far below the surface. And now his talent is on display in collaboration with fellow Yukon artist, Vanessa Brault (featured recently in What’s Up Yukon).
Brault is displaying photographs of local businesses and the products they sell; Gartner is showcasing his fixtures, some of which hold light bulbs, while others hold candles.
Their show is called Shining Light on Local Business. When Brault talks about this collaboration, one gets the impression it was inevitable.
“We are co-workers and we’re always talking about art. We are also neighbours. I can see his house from my house in Hillcrest,” Brault says. She appreciates Gartner’s enthusiasm, saying, “He’s always coming up with ideas and putting his own original spin on them.”
The truth of Brault’s statement becomes evident when one takes a look at Gartner’s works of art. His light fixtures have an eerie beauty about them, and their shapes prompt glimmers of recognition among the viewers. This is not a coincidence.
“I like to make art inspired by shapes you find in nature,” Gartner explains. Some of his light fixtures look like elongated globes. These are based on cocoons. He has also made candleholders, constructed of long elegant rods, inspired by bare tree branches.
There’s an interesting irony here: even though the candleholders are inspired by natural objects, they are constructed of welded steel.
It is tempting to think that Gartner’s job as an electrician does not contribute much in the way of artistic inspiration. In fact, Gartner says, the opposite is true, “In a lot of the buildings where I work, the lighting is really drab and I wonder how it can be done better.”
Gartner’s original-yet-functional artwork is a weapon against such drabness.
Tracy Taporowski, owner/operator of Umbellula, is impressed with the way Gartner’s art has added to the ambiance of her café. She says his art produces “a really comfortable, cozy and warm light” that “works great for an industrial building like the one Umbellula is in”.
The praise extends further than Taporowski. Gartner says he has received very positive responses and is even starting to get some public recognition. “I’ll be walking down the street and someone will say, ‘Hey, aren’t you the guy that made those light fixtures?'”
Gartner seems amused and encouraged by it all.
When asked if he is continuing to make art, Gartner answers with an emphatic “Yes!” and then goes on to describe a litany of ongoing projects, which include a collection of mixed-media paintings and a giant globe in his back yard (your guess is as good as mine).