March 25, 2019
The ShortNorth.org blog highlights the happenings of the Short North Arts District. In Art Spotlight, we feature the artists and gallerists of the District and explore their exhibitions, artworks, and more.
During our recent chat with artist Steve Moseley, he uttered this phrase at least three times, “I’ll tell you a story.” Sharing anecdotes about his work and viewers’ reactions to it is part of the fun for the St. Louis-based artist, who chooses subjects about “the things that are impolite to talk about in polite society – religion, politics, and sex,” he said. Moseley creates what he calls “Patience Bottles” – because of the patience required to create them – also known as Whimsy Bottles. These works are similar to ships in bottles, but rather than having painstakingly recreated static objects, they follow a long folk art tradition of depicting scenes, particularly of the satirical variety in Moseley’s case.
Known as “outsider art” because he is self-taught, Moseley’s pieces started as a hobby 21 years ago when he and his wife moved their family to Cincinnati for her new job and decided he would quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad. Moseley wanted something that would both fill his time and be safe from potential accidents caused by his kids’ “little fingers,” which led him to making ships in bottles. After eight years, his family moved back to St. Louis and he’d grown tired of ships, deciding to switch to Whimsy Bottles at the suggestion of a friend.
The bottles Moseley most frequently uses are Knob Creek bourbon bottles, which typically depict smaller-scale scenes with about three figures and take around 15-20 hours to complete. To obtain these bottles, Moseley and his wife, or friends, simply finished emptying one the old fashioned way. He then tells another of his favorite stories. In it, he had tried buying bulk bottles from Jim Beam with no luck, until one day when he got a call from a fellow bottle artist: the head of the company who distributes bottles to Jim Beam had just moved in next door. Moseley bought 100 bottles at $10 each. “I now believe in miracles,” he said with a laugh.
To create these scenes, Moseley makes hand-carved wooden figurines and other props then shapes clay around them to complete the forms. Using epoxy, he smooths over imperfections on the forms then carefully lowers, arranges, and affixes them inside glass bottles. The final piece is a wood stopper carved with an inscription commenting on the scene, which is usually named eponymously.
One of his favorite bottles was inspired by a well-known song. “I was going to pick up my son at art class, when ‘Tempted’ by Squeeze came on the radio,” he said. “[It] means there’s another woman in the garden tempting Adam with another piece of fruit. I thought it was the perfect bottle. It’s Eve trying to tempt Adam with an apple, and another woman trying to tempt him with a pair of watermelons.” The subject of each bottle shares this satirical thread, but the specifics can depend on a variety of factors: the topic, the bottle, Moseley’s experiences and ideas about them.
Moseley’s favorite vessels in which he can create scenes are long laboratory bottles, but finishing one of these pieces can take up to a month because they can hold at least a dozen figures and the bottles are not easy to come by. One of the works for which he’s best known, titled “The Last McSupper,” is housed in one, and was the artwork that garnered him attention from Lindsay Gallery owner Duff Lindsay. The artist and gallerist shared a mutual respect for one another and decided to work together, which led to Moseley’s inclusion at the popular Outsider Art Fair in New York, an aspiration for the artist. “The last art class I ever had was in eighth grade, and had never shown anything, much less with Duff,” he said, noting the experience has been “incredible.”
Steve Moseley’s work is currently on view alongside stone carving by Mike Jones at Lindsay Gallery.
– Michelle Gibson