Welcome to Planet Pietzsch

Welcome to Planet Pietzsch. It’s a strangely beautiful world where buses and tractors float and fly, a sunflower grows as tall as Jack’s beanstalk, a bee’s wingspan rivals that of a B-52—and the colors are so rich, they look as if they’ve just been squirted from a dessert decorator.

Such visions fill the canvases of artist Steve Pietzsch (sounds like “peach”).

“My whole deal is this,” he says. “I can paint perfectly representational pictures, down to the leaf. But what’s the point in that? To me the real art—my art—goes beyond that. It means going a little crazy on the canvas. Getting a little dreamy.”

Pietzsch’s “Hill Country Surrealism,” as he calls it, is a Texas take on the early 20th century art movement that shook Paris to its core. He cites inspiration masters such as Salvador Dali (imagine watches drooping like cloth over ghostly tree limbs), M.C. Escher (envision endless staircases folding back on themselves) and Rene Magritte (picture skies raining men in derbies).

Pietzsch, who paints in a studio next to his hilltop cabin on a 10-acre spread outside of Medina, can’t think of any better place to be these days. But he didn’t get there overnight.

Born and raised in Dallas, he leapt straight from college into a coveted job at the Sketch Pad, an Arlington-based graphic-design firm known for traffic-stopping creativity. Clients included Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly, and Pietzsch created some iconic cover illustrations, including: Kinky Friedman portrayed as an invisible man (á la Magritte); a “tortilla” sunrise; and Earth bearing the single landmass of Texas.

Then came a move to Austin, where Pietzsch was lured by the buzzy and burgeoning 3-D world of video games. Working as an animator and model-maker for clients such as Disney and Microsoft was a big departure from the 2-D realm of painting and drawing—and an intense gig.

Then came a move to Austin, where Pietzsch was lured by the buzzy and burgeoning 3-D world of video games. It was a far cry from his 2-D realm of painting and drawing.

At age 64, Pietzsch was restless for a third act, but also stymied. He couldn’t focus on what to do next. Then an answer came to him in a way he does not recommend: a life-threatening accident in which he was pinned to a sidewalk by a motorcyclist who jumped a curb.

During several months in a hospital and physical therapy, recuperating from broken bones and severe bruises, Pietzsch realized it was time to pursue happiness.

It was time to make art for himself, on his own schedule.

“Heaven is a place with no deadlines,” he says. “The word doesn’t even exist up there.”

This spring, the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center gave Pietzsch his first solo art exhibition. He liked seeing people smile as they viewed his paintings.

“Amusement is a perfectly appropriate response to my work,” he says. “They were having fun. Fair enough, because I had a fine time when I made all that work.”

Take Five:

  • The last wild thing I saw: A roadrunner staring at me through my studio windows
  • Sunrise or sunset: Although I love the sunrise, I tend to get to work painting after sunset
  • Favorite Hill Country spot: Enchanted Rock
  • Beloved landmark: Texas State Capitol in Austin
  • Best drive, ride or hike: Highway 337 from Medina to Camp Wood

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