After a career as an engineering consultant and professor, Steven Moser, 62, is embarking on a new journey as a painter.
Moser had nearly reached 40 years in architectural engineering, having graduated from K-State in 1980 and bouncing between a consulting engineer job in Dallas and teaching at the University of Colorado – Boulder in the decades since.
But Moser, a native Manhattanite and lifelong painter, found he was missing something in his life last year when he took up his professor job at K-State.
“I came back to teach again with the idea to move into art gradually over five to seven years, but I just couldn’t get back into teaching the second time around,” Moser said. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to make a connection with a 20-year-old mind. I realized I was no longer really interested in that, but rather art. It’s about energy, and I hope I can teach again, and I hope it will be about art and culture and place.”
Now, Moser has fully dedicated himself to painting, having painted more than 200 pices in the past nine months. About half of his watercolor paintings focus on landscapes, and the other half are a combination of people and historic buildings.
“I get emotional about buildings, especially historic buildings,” Moser said. “I love to paint buildings and skylines, cityscapes and downtown horizons.”
With his experienced architectural engineer eye, Moser said he prefers to paint from an abstract, complex point of view, resulting in simple paintings that ask viewers to fill in the details.
“To me, you can personally connect to something if you can participate in it,” Moser said. “And the more photorealistic the painting, the less participation and engagement you ask the viewer to make.
“I have astigmatism, and with my engineering and lighting background, I have a photographer’s approach to what’s in focus,” Moser continued.
“The eye itself only focuses on one thing, so I like to have just one thing more or less in focus and everything else blurred out. Blurring out is more accurate to human perception and what people experience.”
His preferred style is plein air painting, a process in which he sits and paints on location for an hour, then goes back to his studio to clean up the paintings for another hour or two. His hope is that viewers not only see his paintings, but feel them.
“When you sit outside, it involves all five senses,” Moser said. “The smell, the light, the sound, the feel of the heat … that’s the wonderful thing about plein air or on-site painting. It’s a sense of place that includes the landscape, the culture, the history, the people, the values, the art, the songs and the artists. These pictures are worth 1,000 words, which is good, since I talk kind of slow.”
Moser’s goal is to complete one painting every day, and he’s often painting landscapes in the area around Manhattan or buildings downtown and on K-State’s campus. He hopes to eventually have a comprehensive show dedicated to paintings of K-State and its history in the next couple of years.
Next month, Moser is teaming up with photographer Tony Ridder to host an art show at Bluestem Bistro that pairs up Ridder’s photography with Moser’s paintings of the same landscapes. Moser said they’ll use that show as a staging ground for other, bigger shows in 2020.
Ruth Ridder, Tony’s wife and owner of Little Apple Art Supply, regularly frames and mats Moser’s pictures. Ruth said she introduced Moser to YUPO paper, which is a translucent, plastic sheet that gives watercolor paintings a different look and texture.
“The paint does what it wants to on YUPO, so you have to control it a bit more, but he’s been a huge fan of the YUPO,” Ruth said. “Especially with his watercolors. He says if he doesn’t like something he paints, he can just brush it off.”
Moser and Ruth donated a painting and framing services for an auction at Seven Dolors Church’s Arts on the Green, an event on Sunday to benefit immigrants at the southern border.
“I prefer to paint bridges, rather than walls right now,” Moser said. “El Paso is an important place to me. Every city has its troubles, but the biggest issue is when people don’t want to build bridges.”
Although he’s painted since he was in high school, Moser said his biggest challenge is finding the drive to continue improving as a painter.
“I’ve grown more in the past nine months as an artist than I had in the previous 20 years,” Moser said. “I’m on the steep part of the learning curve, and that steep part can go for five or six years, but then you have to figure out what the next curve is, because that’s where the best part of the ride is. You have to grow and continue to develop.”
Beyond Manhattan, Moser regularly travels across the country, painting at every opportunity he gets. He particularly likes to visit his four kids and two grandchildren, who now live in different states.
Over the past two weeks, he’s has been on a tour of California, visiting a cousin who lives in San Jose and traveling along Highway 1. The trip has special meaning to him, as he’s visiting the area where his mother and late father grew up. He’s going to the parks and trails they visited 65 years ago on their honeymoon, and in his paintings, Moser has found a connection to their lives and his past.
“The wonderful thing about art is that you can paint what you want to see,” Moser said. “You don’t even have to see it, but you do have to imagine it, and that becomes reality. But you have to want to see it and imagine it.”
One day, these are the places where Moser will return to spread their ashes.
“I’m on a journey, and the paintings are my journal,” Moser said.
“They’re my interaction with those places and my story. I don’t want to just go to places and scratch the surface — I want to go to half a dozen places that I can visit regularly, and they become a part of who I am.”