Michael Steirnagle Biography
Steirnagle began his art career like many other fine artists-as an illustrator. After studying for a degree in illustration from the Art Center College of Design, formerly in Los Angeles but now in Pasadena, CA, he worked on major commissions with clients such as American Airlines, AT&T, and Pepsi from 1975 to 1993. During this time he also illustrated an array of record album covers, including the cover for Jerry Garcia's 1976 solo album, Reflections. Along the way, Steirnagle picked up numerous awards for his work from prestigious organizations like the Society of Illustrators. But ultimately, in 1990 at the age of 40, he decided it was time to venture down a new path in his creative life. "Illustration is a lucrative career, but it's not always fun. And it became obvious that computers were taking over the business," he says.
After accepting a teaching job at Palomar College in San Marcos, a suburb of San Diego, he began to spend more and more of his free time in his studio. Initially it was a period of searching for his voice. "Finding your own way of looking at things takes a lot of time. I wanted to find out who I was as an artist when my work wasn't tied to commercial purposes," Steirnagle says. "At first I did traditional figures, landscapes, and urbanscapes. But it all began to loose its importance because I felt like I was not really responding to my inner voice. So I began to work more abstractly. I just got tired of trying to compose a painting in a representational style."
Today he is comfortable with the way his work has evolved, citing Bay Area figurative artist Richard Diebenkorn and abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning as major influences. Diebenkorn and de Kooning allowed their work to unfold spontaneously rather than duplicating what was in front of them, Steirnagle says. "Their goal was to merely use what was in front of them as a springboard to where their own imagination would take them," he explains. "This allows me the freedom to play with shapes, colors, and textures, which I couldn't do if I had to create an art director's vision."
These days Steirnagle is lucky enough to maintain two studios. One is located in Escondido, CA, not far from Palomar College, where he remains a professor of art teaching painting and drawing classes. During the summer months he heads to Costa Rica, where he and his wife, Adele, have purchased a home and studio on a 50-acre wildlife refuge called SIBU located near the town of Nosara.
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