Steven Starley received his formal training in Northern California at Humboldt State University, where he majored in art with an emphasis on painting. Although the human figure and landscapes were predominant in his student work, he became increasingly drawn to the creative and interpretive freedom of abstract painting. This shift occurred during a seven year stay in Japan, where, influenced by the spontaneity of Sumie painting, he began working with combinations of ink, crayon, and pastel. After returning to the United States, a quest for a more refined balance of control and spontaneity led to the use of acrylics as the main medium. Space, textural contrast, and mood are major elements in his work.
Since moving to Flagstaff, Arizona, textures, colors, and themes reminiscent of red rock have begun to appear with greater frequency. Balance and interdependency of color and form play fundamental roles, as do the nature and function of control in the painting process. Matisse, in his concern for the purely esthetic function of painting, has been an indirect influence. Other influences have been the paintings of Paul Klee and the artwork of children.