In every generation a true artist rises up to stand out amongst all others, Steve R. Allen, is one such artist. My mother used to say, “ya got it honestly cuz you was born dat way”. Steve has a true to life story and talks very candidly about how certain folk told him what he wouldn’t and could not do. He can lol now because he proved them dead wrong. His artistic works hang in the most conspicuous places from Athens, Greece to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and even Beijing, China, He is the official artist for the US Olympic Committee and has exhibited eight times for the US Olympic games. His character is much like that of a young boy who for the first time takes notice of himself. He never thought that someday he would be the Steve R. Allen that everyone now talks about. Steve was born in a one-room shanty in North Carolina. He never had much interest in anything else outside of drawing and was at the time studying to become an electrical engineer. In his mind, his plan was to work as a customer service for the IRS, VA, or some other government related industry but life and Steve’s future had something else in mind.
His journey, a very unexpected one, began at age 38, when after walking into work one day his boss man who he refers to as, “Mr. Charlie”, wasn’t talking right to him and so he decided to give Mr. Charlie his job back and quit. Afterwards he headed straight over to the unemployment office to make sure he had some money in his account. He started painting that same afternoon and the rest, as they say, “is in the books.” From that moment on there was no turning back. Now, Steve R. Allen world traveler has more than his share of accolades and considered one of 2020’s most influential artist. In 2013 the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution for their artistic, historical and scholastic value, acquired 4 of his pieces as a part of their Founding and Permanent Collection. When asked the question of how he was treated in other countries as an African American male, his reply was, “they did not expect it to be me”. During the unveiling of Steve’s piece at the, OC Training Center in Chula Vista California he and his team did not show his picture to anyone on purpose. He introduced himself to the head person for the event three times. Finally, when his piece was about to be revealed those in charge mouths fell open when they saw that he was an African American. Steve told our studio cameras he experienced the same astonishment time after time, country to country from heads of state and top officials upon his revealing that he was an African American.
His contact with the Smithsonian was by chance and on behalf of someone else who wanted him to contact Johnnetta Cole the Director of the Smithsonian African Art Museum from 2009-2017. Steve had to contact the Institute to find out if the friend’s foreword could be used in their magazine. When Dr. Cole apologetically got back to him some six weeks later, he took the opportunity to pitch his latest painting then, Freedom Journey, also called the, Obama piece. Dr. Cole suggested he reach out to Dr. Lonnie Bunch former head of the California African American Art Museum. A few weeks later much to his surprise the phone rang at 8:30PM that night. All Steve heard someone say was, Smithsonian. He tried to hold it together because his mama use to say, “you can’t help how you feel but you can help how you act”. So, he was cool and gave a thank you and all the proper responses. Two weeks later independent scholar, collector of paintings and botanical watercolors, Dr. Shirley Sherwood came from Tennessee to see him that morning and that afternoon supervisory curator of culture, Elaine Nichols, followed from South Carolina. He works in the basement of his home and took them downstairs to see his studio. As they walked down further into the room, they saw a giclee photograph of his grandmother.
When he got the word, he was driving back from New Orleans. They told him they couldn’t stop talking about the painting of his grandmother and would it be possible to have that as a part of their collection?
This honor would present yet another dream come true opportunity. Soon afterwards he was asked to do a commissioned piece for the “Uniting Colors of the World” project. It was a mammoth 80×28 ft mural for the City of Atlanta’s official hosting of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Summer Games.
For this artist there is no river, sea or ocean that he can’t cross and no mountain that he can’t climb. For his next project Steve is partnering with the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are developing a line of clothing to support the cause for saving the Bonobo monkeys, Elephants and Silver backs who are an endangered species in the there. There is a big sanctuary right outside of Kinshasa where a friend he calls, brother, Mose is the Managing Director of the Office of Tourism and that’s how Steve was able to get an up close and personal first-hand look at the Bonobo. The DRC organization is working with the baby Bonobo and Steve marveled at how the sisters in the Congo work with the youngest of the Bonobo and can raise them just as if they were their mothers themselves. The program to save these animals is growing and gaining momentum and he is very happy to be involved in the project.
As for Covid-19 he says he doesn’t mind it so bad because he loves his home and has been able to get more administrative work done by organizing his collection and having it appraised as well as have others appraise what he has given them. He also gave us an intriguing account of the organization called, “Art of the Olympians,” which was started by Olympian discus, Al Oerter” and gave our cameras a bit of history on how the Olympics came to be. After or even during their careers part of what the organization does is to organize exhibitions as a part of their Olympic creed. The original Olympics in ancient Olympia 776 BC were actual art festivals and all the athletes were considered one race. As a matter of fact, when the modern Olympics began in 1896 part of the games were the arts and there were medals given out for the competition. They stopped doing them around 1948. Now there is a cultural Olympiad associated with the Olympic competitions.
As of last week, Steve was offered the opportunity to work with the “Art of the Olympians” organization. He reached out to his sisters and brothers in Brazil to see how they too could get involved. He says that before Covid-19 he was doing master classes for young people in Brazil and the Congo amongst other places. He hopes that when Covid is under control he can begin to travel again.
Back in the beginning after people found out that he was and African American and the representing artist for the US made him want to work with young people from the diaspora. He feels that they need the encouragement that he never had as a young boy growing up in that one room shanty back in North Carolina. He goes back whenever he can to visit and says it is still there to remind him of who he is.
For more information on Art of the Olympians and the works of Steve R. Allen visit www.steverallenfoundation.org.