Father Steve Is New York’s Latest Teen Art Prodigy

A conversation with an 18-year-old painter you need to know.

November 05, 2015

Steven Savoca, the New York-based 18-year-old who goes by Father Steve, makes one-of-a-kind artworks that are accessible for teens and adults alike. The painter and illustrator works within a variety of mediums, including hand-painted custom garments and occasional canvas work. His art subconsciously references Adam Cost's irreverence and Picasso's erraticism, and his unique monochrome characters recall the long-gone vibes of ’80s and ’90s train-painters like Katsu and Blade.

Steve sells his pieces through a no-frills online store and has crafted custom garments for celeb clients like Wiz Khalifa, who was recently spotted wearing an intricately detailed Father Steve-painted jacket during a live performance. His rising profile doesn't deter him from interacting with fans on a regular basis, though: Steve actively keeps up with followers on Instagram, and he recently staged a painting meet-up at the VFiles store in SoHo with fellow artist Warren Lotas. Below, The FADER chats with the young upstart about his process, appealing to teens, and the highs and lows of being big on Instagram.

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Were you interested in art and illustration growing up?

FATHER STEVE: Yes, I was always interested. My mom actually has some pictures of me covered in paint as a four year old. I always liked art class in high school too.

How would you describe your style?

It stems from an evolving graffiti style, as I used to do graffiti when I was younger. There are characters in graffiti that writers would paint, so I came up with my own. I have since created a lot of different ones. My work is also a reflection of how I see people.

How did you start painting on garments?

I always had old denim jackets, like this old Marlboro denim jacket that had a screenprint of a cowboy on the back. I thought it would be cool to put my own thing on the back of a jacket. My friend Warren Lotas is also always making custom clown pieces, so I started going to Boston every once and a while. Every time I am [visiting him] in Boston, all we do is make clothes and paint on vintage things.

How important do you think it is to be trained in the technicalities of art and design?

I didn't go to school, but I think it can be good to learn techniques formally. To be considered a "fine artist" you have to go to school, but if you can come up with a style or technique on your own —one that works for you and you feel comfortable doing—then I think you're fine. It's not bad to learn techniques, though. I gathered a bunch of techniques from my art class in the final year of school. It's always good to learn new skills.

Why do you think teenagers are drawn to your work?

It's approachable and fun and a lot of it is on clothing. They're still expensive, but I treat my custom work as an art piece, rather than a clothing piece. What attracts the adults is mostly the canvas work. The adults purchase the paintings and the teens purchase the custom clothing.

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What are the pros and cons of having such a large presence on social media?

The pros are you can have a wide audience and reach many people. You can represent yourself exactly how you want if you run your account yourself, which I do. It also feels very personal, everyone feels like they know you and I talk to almost everyone who reaches out to me. I'm very in touch with the people who like my stuff. The cons are people could incorrectly interpret you as a person, or take you the wrong way. People think I'm a rich kid and from a really rich family. Trust me, I'm not. My parents are struggling—not terribly, but as a normal family in New York would—and I get no financial help from them. Everything is on me.

How did the VFiles meet-up come about?

Warren and I we were sleeping at my house in New York, cause he was visiting, and we decided we wanted to paint publicly. We didn't know where to do it in the city, so we contacted Danielle and Roxy from VFiles and they said we could do an in-store thing. So people came, and we drew on stuff they brought and they purchased stuff from VFiles and we painted on a few shirts. It was nice. We got to hang out. Some kids came with their parents.

It seems you have a lot of artist friends. Why do you think it's important to surround yourself with likeminded creative people?

It's great. Anytime I'm hanging out with Warren and Austin [aka Asspizza], all we do is make things, paint and be creative together.

Are there any specific eras in art or artists you are inspired by?

I wish I could say I was more knowledgeable on art history and artists, but I am mostly inspired by graffiti art from my neighborhood. I have a really shitty Instagram going where I take photos of all the graffiti I see.

Do you have that spontaneous approach with your work? How much of it is premeditated?

Usually, I don't sketch beforehand—I just go into everything open. I'll start off by drawing a head, then another head will pop up, and then hair, and then a nose, and then I add color. The process is always changing.

Where do you hope your art will take you?

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I'd like to take it into galleries and have shows and exhibit my canvas work more, cause that’s what I have the most fun with. Although it's not as accessible to kids because of the price, that's what I really want to do.

Father Steve Is New York’s Latest Teen Art Prodigy