While viewing the Yayoi Kusama retrospective and the “Fireflies on the Water” exhibit at The Whitney Museum in NYC, I had a chance to view their 2nd floor collection entitled “Signs and Symbols”. In this room I got to see one of my favorite art pieces of all time called “Laughing Boy Rolling” by Steve Wheeler. Mesmerized, I spent 45 minutes walking back in forth in front of this painting, while simultaneously gazing here and there at work of Ted Faiers that hung nearby. I was in heaven primarily because I was seeing for the first time the original works of a rare art movement.
Steve Wheeler was an abstract expressionist that belonged to the sub group called the ‘Indian Space Painters’. While the term is contemporarily deemed politically incorrect, and rightfully so, this subgroup actually paid a positive homage to the cultural style and heritage of Native American art. Steve Wheeler, while born in Slovakia, immigrated to America as a young infant by his parents who were searching for a better life. They resided in New Salem, Pennsylvania, where his father worked as a coal miner in the town. At 16, Wheeler found himself working in his father’s footsteps in the same mines, and claims to have found his calling deep in the dark tunnels of his toiling labor. It was here that Wheeler heard the voice of an oracle deep in the mines telling him of his destiny to be an artist. Steve, now determined to reach this lofty goal, continued to work in the daytime as a coal miner, and educated himself at night as an artist in his small attic bedroom.