Artist Erik Stenberg brings his work to life

“Any time I’m playing around with paint, I’m a happy artist."

Artist Erik Stenberg brings his work to life

Written by: Jerry Davich
November 28, 2018


Erik Stenberg’s whimsical artwork reflects his fascination with life’s abnormalities.  

The 39-year-old self-taught artist from Lowell has an uncanny knack of creating quirky characters who find a path from his fluid imagination to a more permanent existence in our world. This creative transformation first takes place in his mind, then through colors and textures onto wood or canvas. 

These characters, Stenberg says, are creatures he would like to exist alongside. In many ways, he already is. After populating his mind for so many years, they are now populating his clients’ homes, offices and art galleries. “Any time I’m playing around with paint, I’m a happy artist,” says Stenberg, whose tattooed arms are splattered with specks of fresh paint. 

Although he studied fine art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he never took one painting class there. That colorful aspect of his artistry came later, when he grew restless with the trappings of drawing and graphic design work.   

A few years after graduating from the esteemed academy, Stenberg lost interest in the black-and-white restrictions of charcoal etchings. He tried his hand at acrylic painting, allowing him to leave the drabness of Kansas for a technicolor trip to Oz. 

His mind became a blender of newfound creativity, pouring out goblets of ideas at frappe speed. Owls, hippos and other animals personified his work. He later tapped into a nautical theme, revealing ripples of his wonderment with the open water. “I have an immense pull to the ocean,” Stenberg says. “Give me an ocean, a palm tree, and a muse for my painting, and I’ll be content.” 

His paintings offer a humorous peek into his allure of sea life featuring human tendencies. A drunken octopus. A melancholy fish. A musical alligator. A naval seal. And, as a hint to his future work, a homeless crab forced to use a sardine can as a protective shell.  

Stenberg’s ingenuity ebbs and flows like the maritime themes in his work, buoyed by technically masterful brushstrokes. “I enjoy painting pieces that you can smile about now and think about later,” he says. 

The Griffith native grew up intrigued with animatronics and a fascination with movies and characters from the 1980s. He has since been repainting his career again and again. Today, he also operates a house-painting business, NeuLook. It keeps his hands in a paint can and his mind open for creative new ideas.  

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Erik Stenberg
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Erik Stenberg

Although he studied fine art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he never took one painting class there. That colorful aspect of his artistry came later, when he grew restless with the trappings of drawing and graphic design work.   

A few years after graduating from the esteemed academy, Stenberg lost interest in the black-and-white restrictions of charcoal etchings. He tried his hand at acrylic painting, allowing him to leave the drabness of Kansas for a technicolor trip to Oz. 

His mind became a blender of newfound creativity, pouring out goblets of ideas at frappe speed. Owls, hippos and other animals personified his work. He later tapped into a nautical theme, revealing ripples of his wonderment with the open water. “I have an immense pull to the ocean,” Stenberg says. “Give me an ocean, a palm tree, and a muse for my painting, and I’ll be content.” 

His paintings offer a humorous peek into his allure of sea life featuring human tendencies. A drunken octopus. A melancholy fish. A musical alligator. A naval seal. And, as a hint to his future work, a homeless crab forced to use a sardine can as a protective shell.  

Stenberg’s ingenuity ebbs and flows like the maritime themes in his work, buoyed by technically masterful brushstrokes. “I enjoy painting pieces that you can smile about now and think about later,” he says. 

The Griffith native grew up intrigued with animatronics and a fascination with movies and characters from the 1980s. He has since been repainting his career again and again. Today, he also operates a house-painting business, NeuLook. It keeps his hands in a paint can and his mind open for creative new ideas.  

Several years ago, Stenberg fell while paneling a house, breaking both wrists. The spill also fractured his psyche, prompting him to question his creative identity. After healing his wrists, he was asked to paint his boss’s home. It turned out to be a serendipitous request as Stenberg found solace in the repetitive, mind-clearing activity. “It was extremely therapeutic for me,” he recalls.  

He married his wife Michelle in 2013, and the couple has a 3-year-old son who gave Stenberg the gift of seeing the world again through fanciful eyes. “I think being a father has enhanced my creativity. But I have less time to create it,” he jokes.  

He also joked that his trademark signature at the bottom of his pieces looks like it was written by a 3-year-old child. “Nope,” he says with a playful shrug. “It’s just me.”

Stenbergs future pieces will feature “garbage integration,” reflecting our species’ shameful habit of dumping trash and plastic into our waterways. Stenberg, who’s growing his own ocean coral inside tanks at his home, takes this global atrocity personally. Like with a lot of my pieces,” he says, I want my artwork to convey my feelings about this issue.”