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June Feature: Shayam Korey Steckle

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

"I am a collagist, photographer, painter, and writer based on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. My main focus since 2015 has been in the mediums of Collage and Photography. I am represented by Cuts and Collage Gallery Canada's first Collage and Assemblage Gallery located in the beautiful city of Halifax.

I am proudly following in the footsteps of the late Robert Frank a major photographic influence on myself. Both of us have an outsider’s eye that we have brought to our photographic work in the field here on this beautiful and inspiring island. We also chose to leave the intense spotlight of the press, critics and demands, pressures associated with city dwelling for solitude surrounded by the nature. And I too have chosen to hone my skills and craft beside the ocean.

I have replaced the thousands of hours spent studying the masters at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto where I have visited since the mid 1980’s with the cliffs, beaches and shoreline capturing the elements year-round on an almost daily basis. Naturally the various mediums that I cultivate and explore are utilized into the various pieces of shapes sizes and colour that I select, compile, and assemble into my Collage work. The writings and experiments of William S. Burroughs introduced me to Collage. He would distort audio tapes of conversations then cut and splice them reassembling to very provocative and awe-inspiring results. He then began to cut into newspapers and books, and I became mesmerized by the simple yet complex act through which I discovered as a manipulative power and mysterious force that guides me to this day of writing.

For myself Collage is about collection, control, concealment as well as repurposing. There is selection, execution and destruction involved. Undeniably there is a healing and reshaping involved as I work through my visions and subversive, political messaging. Collage reflexively teaches gestalt – a single work that also reveals the individual elements. All design is, in essence, collaged. It is taking pre-existing- existing forms – shapes, typography, images – and collaging them into a coherent whole. Design is both a noun and a verb, the action and the artifact and so is Collage. It is a noun – a complete object – but also a verb – the action of collaging, of connecting disparate parts into a coherent whole.

My humble tools for creation are source materials which include a very selective shortlist of periodicals, scissors, glue stick, exacto knife and cardstock. I now see the world through my photographer’s eye filtered through the prism of Collage. It places value on the minutia, inner workings, and finite details of life. I strongly believe that art is my calling. And my language is visual."

Q: Tell me about what kind of work you are currently making?

I am currently working on new Collage work for my upcoming exhibits which at last count totalled 6 each stretching for months at a time in Ontario and Nova Scotia beginning in June and running throughout 2024. I am blessed to be working with world renowned fashion models as well as professional skateboarders and surfers. This has become a fitting match considering that my source material relates to these subjects exclusively. I am also immersed in a series of Collage work series that focus on socio – political issues and the military industrial complex as well as capitalism, race, and White Nationalism.

Recently I have undertaken a very exciting and challenging collaboration with a talented published writer, poet, and artist Amanda Crewe. We are melding her text and prose with my imagery and Collage to be published as a chapbook containing her poems. Throughout the years whether in Toronto, Guelph or Cape Breton Island I have maintained a regular landscape and abstract photography shooting schedule. I then print my photographs and incorporate as I cut and assemble into my Collage work.

I am also preparing methodically to exhibit my work at the Design School in Athens, Greece next year. Following through on an invitation that was granted to me back in 2019 right before lockdown and the beginning of the Global Pandemic.

Q: What is a day like in the studio for you?

A day for me in the studio is one of a meditative yet intense nature. I awaken at 5am and prepare myself for the day. I awake early for the peace when the ego is quietest. Plus, I take pre sunrise photographs. I listen to ambient music in the candlelit darkness. Before breakfast I enter my studio and read. I’m always reading a biography of an artist. I spend time cutting pieces or printing my photographs which I then dissect and colour coordinate into groups. I use tape and glue as well as paint. I apply onto my photographs and acrylic paintings then wait overnight to peel back the layers to create a rough, weather worn aesthetic. I’ll watch an interview or documentary and if a word or phrase speaks to my ear, I will write it down on a post it note. Then with my stacks of post it notes I enter them into a word document and print. This will be then interspersed amongst my politically minded collage works. Mail is important to my practise because I receive fashion publications from around the world. I read before my scissor extracts. I also meet with mentors worldwide on zoom as we discuss collaborations and inspiration. I’m very grateful to these mentors. All who I respect and admire. I have been accepted by my heroes as peers.

I do not create a collage piece in the studio each day. There is much thought and careful preparation in doing so. Emotionally and mentally for myself as well I prefer to create a piece before I eat breakfast or directly before I prepare to rest at night.

Q: Who are your most prominent influences on your art practice?

My influences on my art are vast and varied. They permeate through art, music, film, literature, photography, fashion, art, design, and politics. Jean Michel Basquiat is the most prominent influence on myself and my work. At a young age I identified with him solely as the only example of an artist of colour. Like myself an outsider of the art world initially and in society throughout.

The most important book to me is On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Reading it transformed how I perceived the world and myself. Through reading his American nomadic depictions I was introduced to his friend and fellow writer William S. Burroughs who opened my eyes to the concept and medium of collage. Once immersed in my own collage work, I began to explore the artist Robert Rauschenberg’s body of work regarding Collage. Studying his process and work ingrained in me the idea that there are no rules to how you create and implement in the Collage work itself.

I cannot neglect mentioning two photographers that have influenced me greatly. I began taking photographs at the age of 15. I eventually replaced the rolling hills, corn fields, and cows as my subjects for the cliffs and ocean shoreline in 2006. First William Eggleston spoke to me in a way no other photographer has. His body of work and attitude freed me from the constraints of classic styles and visions. I read about the late Robert Mapplethorpe in Patti Smith’s seminal memoir Just Kids. I felt an affinity to Robert on many levels. Which led me to meet Patti Smith in 2013 and discuss in detail their relationship. Their shared love of art inspires and fuels me to this day.

Last but certainly not least Marcel Duchamp’s life and art both of which have impacted me greatly. In terms of my work but also my practise and dedication to my way of life and my craft.

Q: What are your preferred mediums to work with and why?

I work in the mediums of Photography, Painting and Collage. I implement the first two into the third. To stave off stagnation in one I immerse myself in one and then cycle through breaking up my days. Early mornings you will find me photographing the predawn coastal regions. I then return to my studio make prints and paint them so by the afternoon I am cutting into the selected photographs for a collage piece. I feel strongly that one medium influence and inspires the other. In 2011, I experimented with collage minimally after taking a long-extended break. I began sketching then painting my photographs of Cape Breton Island but after a few years I burnt myself out and I felt no passion for acrylic photo realistic landscape paintings. I had been creating for commissions, yet I deeply needed to find a new outlet for my creative energies. In 2014 I was involved in a near deadly car crash. In recovery I made the difficult decision at the time to pursue my dream of becoming a prominent name in the medium of collage worldwide.

The artists that I respect and admire greatly also work in multiple fields. My mentors and collaborators worldwide encourage me in both Collage and Photography. It makes sense considering Collage is still Painting but with a glue stick.

Q: What major themes, concepts or methods are rooted in your practice?

The term collage derives from the French term papers collision (or découpage), used to describe techniques of paper cut outs onto various surfaces. My themes rotate through various subjects such as Capitalism, race, sex, class, military industrial complex, history, politics, and literature. My work is very subversive. I use the medium as a vehicle to express and share my intended messages to others. My attempt is to use marketing and advertising techniques against those very institutions and pillars of society. Anti-Capitalist messaging is by far my main theme. I raise a voice for the powerless and point out the inequalities we see and live daily.

My origins surrounding my birth and adoption definitely play a factor in my work. There are so many questions and my truth seeking drives my work forward. Collecting and putting pieces together and forming new creations is deeply rooted in what I do to this day. I choose each piece and create each shape and tear. I dictate the colour scheme and the information throughout. However, I sometimes experiment and force myself to use only pieces in the wastepaper basket in my studio. The most rewarding feeling in studio is when all three corners of a piece meld and conform. In a trance like state I go by feel and sight, with music constantly on in the background. I believe when in the act of creating that I am healing the area of my brain that trauma is stored.

Q: Where can we find more of your work?

My first solo exhibit of this year opens at Cuts and Collage Canada’s first Collage and assemblage only gallery on July 1st – August.

I also have solo exhibits in Guelph, Ontario, at Sugo on Surrey from August – November, High Life during the months of September and October and Mijiidaa beginning December 21st for 6 weeks. This all leads into 2024 which will mark my first solo exhibit on European soil in Athens, Greece. My work is also permanently exhibited at 2 locations in Guelph. The Art Gallery of Guelph and Barber Glass Gallery 1883.

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