An Artist Carves His Path

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Staring down his 41st birthday, the server Jay Tyler Steele reflected on his journey thus far, with less than complete satisfaction. The son of two animators, a creative youth full of painting and photography, pen and ink and stone-stacking, had fallen to the wayside of a “pseudo-career” in fine dining restaurants that lasted longer than he’d ever intended and left little room for creativity. But Steele still had one artistic outlet in the carven creations he’d construct from reclaimed wood. With urging from his fiancée, he took the plunge. Today, roughly two months later, the artist Jay Tyler Steele operates his own booth out of the Bazaar at Apricot & Lime, selling his handmade artwork.

“I finally took control,” Steele says, “and took my life by the reins.” And, for Steele, the reins look a lot like a handheld jigsaw. Working from reclaimed pallet wood or construction materials, the artist transforms what would be scrap into three-dimensional works of art, carving silhouette images across multiple planks and utilizing the natural wood texture and wear and tear as part of the charm. He’s not the first, he’ll admit. “But I decided to expand the concept as far as I could,” he says. To that end, Steele eschews simple silhouettes, looking for more engaging, and challenging subjects, both for him and his audience. “A simple silhouette really isn’t enough,” he says. “There isn’t enough depth.” Still, despite making everything with only a handheld jigsaw, screwdriver and a paintbrush, his creations range from wildlife to landscapes, from Beatles portraits and Abbey Road crossings to kids flying kites and daydreaming mermaids. Not wanting to be pigeonholed, he hopes the breadth of subject matter will itself become a signature.

Not content with the carving alone, Steele then takes his work to the next level by installing LED lighting to backlight each piece. Not only does the modern lighting offer an intriguing counterpoint to the rustic medium, but, to Steele, brings the whole piece to life. “It doesn’t seem like just an inanimate object on the wall anymore,” he says.

“I finally took control, and took my life by the reins.” Steele says, looking to a future filled with creation and art, with an audience and a place at Bazaar at Apricot & Lime. And it looks good, with no room for regret. “If you never give it 100%,” he says, “you never really know what you’re capable of.”

Image courtesy of Jay Tyler Steele.

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