Portrait of My Mother

About Charles Steffen

Charles Steffen’s artistic output permanently changed during and after his 15-year institutionalization at the Elgin State Hospital, where he received treatment for schizophrenia. Steffen had originally studied drawing, art history, and photography at the Illinois Institute of Technology, but devoted himself purely to drawing during and after his time at Elgin. His drawings were characteristically made on brown wrapping paper with graphite and colored pencils, depicting images from his memory and intimate life. Frequent subjects included his bank teller, plants from his yard, his family, nudes, the hospital, showgirls, and religious studies. Later in his career, Steffen began to combine his repertoire of imagery into fantastically hybrid and gnarled forms. He produced as many as three drawings a day, and was known to destroy unsatisfactory pieces.

American, 1927-1995