The city of Sterling Heights' new Featured Artist is an Assyrian Iraqi American who aspires to carry on a millennia-long legacy of Middle Eastern art.
Sterling Heights resident Reni Stephan is a sculptor and painter who owns the Studio Lamassu art studio along 15 Mile Road, near Ryan Road. As the latest Featured Artist, his work will be on display at the Sterling Heights Community Center, 40250 Dodge Park Road, during November and December.
Stephan said he was picked for the honor after he applied a few months ago for the Featured Artist program, which is run by the Sterling Heights Arts Commission.
"It's really great," he said. "I've been living in Sterling Heights for a long time, so it's great to be part of this."
Stephan, 42, was born in Baghdad in 1981, and he said he moved to the U.S. when he was 11. He said his family has plenty of musical talent, and while he shares a love of music, his artistry is more visual in nature.
He said he started drawing while he was in middle school and continued to develop his craft throughout his high school years. He then went on to get an art degree at what is now the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
Stephan said his work on display at the Community Center is mainly portraits.
"I like doing portraits because a lot of times; it's a way of capturing a person's emotions and the way I see them," he said.
But Stephan's artistic interests extend further yet. When he researched ancient art from Assyria and Babylon in his teens, he was amazed by the detailed sculptures and the level of craftsmanship from thousands of years ago, despite the limited technology of that era. He said that motivated him to delve into clay sculptures and reliefs to carry on that legacy.
Ancient Mesopotamian culture even influenced the name of his art studio, Lamassu. A lamassu is an Assyrian supernatural being, often depicted as part animal, like a winged bull, with a human head.
Stephan explained that Ishtar Restaurant in Sterling Heights offered him a big opportunity to showcase his work when it commissioned him around eight years ago to make a rendition of the famous blue Ishtar Gate, as well as wall art of lions, a chariot, lamassu and more. Multiple pieces of Stephan's work are also on display at the Chaldean Community Foundation's headquarters along 15 Mile Road, near Ryan Road, he said.
Stephan added that his work was noticed by the Assyrian Cultural Foundation in Illinois and that the foundation approached him around three years ago to sponsor his work. While the Mesopotamian art style isn't prevalent in his Featured Artist display at the Community Center, he said he might show more of that art style if he ever becomes a Featured Artist again.
"The ancient Mespotamian art, that's our ancestors," he said. "Our artifacts are being sent all over the world in museums. A lot of our people never got to see those artifacts in real life. ... I try to mimic that a little bit in some of my work and show the new generation what we used to have and what we still have."
Stephan added that he also has created Christian art for churches and other religious institutions, adding that he made bronze statues of Jesus and his disciples for the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Quarton Road in Bloomfield Hills.
Jeanne Schabath-Lewis, from the Sterling Heights Arts Commission, said she has wanted Stephan to be a Featured Artist for years.
"His work, the detailing, is absolutely phenomenal," she said. "He's really, really great at doing formal portraits of people. ... His work is just so amazing. He is really down-to-earth; he is really passionate; he's a great artist and a great human being."
Learn more about Studio Lamassu and Stephan by visiting www.lamassuart.com.