Exploring Steve Breslow’s enigmatic art


Longtime former Valley Stream resident and artist Steve Breslow showed off 41 of his pieces at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library earlier this year. The exhibit, aptly titled “Recent Prints and Drawings,” explores the artist’s work produced in the years leading up to the pandemic, which was on display in the library’s Boehm Room and the Gallery in the lower level of the building.

Now in his 70s, Breslow admits that even after decades of drawing, his art style is “hard to pin down,” ranging from realistic to surrealistic to a mishmash of both.

Oftentimes, lonely people populate his expansive but isolating pieces. They aren’t “real people,” noted Breslow. Their faces and bodies are borrowed from his imagination or dreams or composites of faces and bodies of people he knows in real life.

As in real life through his digital and film photography, so in his imagination through his graphic art, Breslow seeks to capture a stark strangeness and abstract mystery in the spaces we occupy.

He routinely plays with our brain’s desire to find — if not harmony — a sense of congruency and certainty in the objects we see arranged in an image — and pulls that desire right from under our noses.

It’s a theme that he revisits, again and again.

“There is a struggle going on between isolation and trying to coalesce and bring things together,” said Breslow. “And an ambiguity that I leave the viewer to grapple with.” 

Like the work of a manic scribbler, his images are formed and composed of dozens of tiny scratch marks. Some of those images are tinted with watercolor, but more often left in drab browns or muted grays. When left in their most raw, untouched state, the scratches are set free to disorient and disturb, resembling the static noise of a television focusing on an image but just shy of solidifying it, making things clear.

While the clarity of Breslow’s images and their message is intentionally diluted, his process is more straightforward. “The nuts and bolts of what I do is sketching and drawing with pen and ink or pencil,” said Breslow. “Everything starts with my sketch.” 

The final touches are done through graphic software on his tablet and pen, opting to forgo the “old-school, labor-intensive” etching press method of his early years. His prints can often take days to complete, but he deliberately avoids enhancing his images with grand graphic effects and is somewhat stingy with his color palette.

“With the computer software, dark shadows, deep tones, reflections, subtle grades of gray, those are my tools,” noted Breslow.   

Even when the viewer is left alone in Breslow’s veil of smoke that blankets his pictures, more often than not, our eyes can pick out the tiny subtleties of gray or a hint of revealing shadow. Sure there is “a certain alienation” in the prints and drawings, noted Breslow, but there is also a beauty that breathes and moves, however faintly, in the details of his frozen, unsettled places.