Man Behind the Art

Stephen James Harlan – The Man Behind the Art





When I was asked to write about Harlan, I thought about all the things I would say that brought this creative genius to where he is today. Certainly, after being married to him for 39 years, I would be a good person to share more about the man behind the art.

Steve Harlan was born in Minnesota and he lived there with his family until they moved to Fort Meyers, Florida while he was still in elementary school. Steve often shares stories of long hours spent skating on the ice of the frozen lakes. He speaks highly of his early years and enjoyed time with his friends, figuring out ways to survive the very cold winters.

When he moved to Florida and took his first swim in the ocean he could not believe how warm it was, “just not at all refreshing” he would say. In all the years I have known Steve we have swam in many oceans and you can see the peace on his face as the salt water takes over his soul. It is by the sea, we must be.

As a teenager he worked hard to purchase his own VW bug and his own Hobie Cat. If he wasn’t playing tennis or practicing his guitar, he would be sailing out to Sanibel or Captiva Island on his boat. There are so many times when I wish I had known him then, as we would have sailed together every day. He talks of mostly sailing alone, swimming with dolphins and just enjoying the peace of the ocean while learning the skills to maneuver in the wind.

When I met Steve, he was playing in a band, Shanti. He was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. He was so handsome and so talented. His long hair and beard was a sign of the care-free hippy times in which we lived. I was so pleased when he would save me a seat at his late-night practices.

His job as a respiratory therapist paid the bills and at that time his dream was to make it in music. The band was good, very good. They practiced late into the night, they recorded their original music and played live. We met when I was a student nurse. Those were magical years for us.

It didn’t take us long to fall in love. After we married, we moved to California. The band was no longer together and I had accepted a job in Burbank. So off we went.

It was there that Steve’s art abilities started to take shape. He could create what no other could, on an emerging computer system. In fact, the manufacturing firm did not believe that some of his illustrations were done on their system. So, they commissioned Steve to design and supplied him with the tools to create. His work started to be used on many magazine covers, and his skills continued to advance.

It was in California that our two amazing daughters were born. And oh my, how amazing they are. Steve is a great father – as the girls got older he would be at every game watching them as they participating in various sports. He was at every gymnastic meet, field hockey and lacrosse games. We tease him as once he filmed the wrong cheerleader at a game thinking he certainly was filming our daughter. And oh, was it hard to tell them all apart from a distance at swim meets. The same suit, the same long legs, the same googles and swim caps. Harlan was there for our girls every step of the way. He still is.

After we moved from California to Maryland, Steve would work long into the night creating art. Years and years went by as he created one piece after another. I would often beg him to come to bed and he would say not now, “this is the best piece I have ever done”. They all were, each piece was better than the last. Steve is blessed, he is truly doing what he should be doing – he is a creative genius from my perspective. God gave him this gift and I am helping him live his dream, while also making sure his work is shared with art collectors all over the world.

You see, Steve is gifted – not just in art. Steve is an old soul. I have no doubt he has lived before. Steve never really fit into the tradition school path, he taught himself most everything. He was an exceptional tennis player, a great singer, song-writer and guitarist – and for the last 20+ years he has amazed his family and art collectors with his ability to see the world in vivid detail and color. His collectors stand in awe of his work, it is often hard for them to believe he painted such hyper-realistic work. You’ll find them looking at the back of the art for a light source or telling us they wish they could be there, there in the painting. It’s the ultimate compliment to Harlan, he strives for realism – yet what he paints does not exist – these images are from his mind and soul. Imagine having a mind that can interpret those thoughts into such amazing paintings. -  vivid colors, long shadows and dramatic reflections.

It’s been more than 40 years since I have known Steve and I have watched as he has lived his dream. I have watched as he has loved this life, his family and the ocean. He often says, “too many ideas, not enough time.” As we travel and as we embrace being grandparents, we treasure our moments together and we enjoy meeting people from all over the world.


When you meet Steve, you will witness his love for art, for life and for the opportunity to follow his dream. He’s so knowledgeable about current events, the arts and music. He’s humble, engaging, and oozes with passion.

-Martha Harlan, wife to Steve.
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