This is an interview I did with artist Stephanie Clark about her series Woolly Islands on Buy Some Damn Art. Clark has lived a nomadic life; her paintings are personal mementos of the various landscapes that have left deep impressions on her. She is a graduate of the Museum School (SMFA) in Boston and currently resides in Santa Fe.
Kate: You were born in New Mexico and, having lived in Chicago, IL, Boston, MA and Grand Forks, ND, you are now back living in your home state. What has that been like for you?
Stephanie: While I was born in New Mexico, I have lived for the longest duration of time, non-consecutively, in Alaska. Despite traveling and residing in many places, I definitely consider Alaska to be my physical “home”. It is the land that resonates the most with me. This is my third time living in New Mexico, and I still don’t consider it my home. I have learned that it is really people, thoughts, small isolated moments within landscape, and ideas that ground me most in my life rather than the place itself.
Kate: What are “Woolly Islands”? Do they exist in real life?
Stephanie: Woolly Islands represents a series of smaller works dealing with the sublime, abstraction, ritual, and the line that binds all things within landscape and environment. These paintings are where I started to think about the compartmentalization of landscape. How when I view landscape it is often in these small ways… While I do have romantic notions of places and just as everyone can, fall into nostalgic ways of thought, I know that it is extremely complicated and often very dodgy territory to think with nostalgia and rely on romantic notions of the world. I always revert to what I see, how I am thinking, and what I feel when in a particular place. Woolly Islands represents the intimacy of a landscape. Through this intimate relationship with landscape, I convey how landscape functions for me through paint. I think of myself within the landscape, physically experiencing a place, not as a despot, conqueror, or passive observer.
I often think about the American West. I began considering this series when I moved to the Southwest. So, while I began to think about the negative effects of manifest destiny, I also began to consider how one views themselves within the environment, the concept that visually there is an expansive space out here in the West that allows one to see things in the distance creating a haziness, an ambiguity, and a longing. I then started considering islands as the direct opposite of the West. What are islands? How do they function, these isolated surrounded bodies of land? I began to think of my paintings as these little islands physically, each of them communicating a part of the land I was seeing and experiencing intimately, yet surrounded by this vast void of space.
Kate: Your latest paintings, including those on BSDA, measure just 8″ x 8″. What is it like working on a smaller scale? Was this intentional?
Stephanie: For the past three years since graduating from the Museum School (SMFA) in Boston, MA, I have moved around, worked, and attended residency programs. This lifestyle has required a smaller format of work. As a result, I began to think of domesticity and transiency in relation to abstraction. I found pleasure in making abstract work in smaller dimensions and found the process to be more challenging. While I have worked larger and intend to again, it is really nice to move quickly from one piece to another. Seeing things change quite immediately, watching other pieces that need their time, take their time is a process that is rewarding. Finally, these works are square in reference to the grid.
Kate: Can you tell us a bit about your “Rock Bottom Riser” series?
Stephanie: The Rock Bottom Riser series is in-progress and began while I was an artist-in-resident at Vermont Studio Center in February of this year. It really was a side project to get my mind going in the early mornings and mid-afternoons when I was in the studio. The thirty-two gouache on paper paintings are images of snow, dirt, and debris that had become dissolved, were pushed around, trampled upon, melted, and refroze everyday.
I found on my daily walks that the way the snow and slush shifted and morphed really created these patterns and shapes that held my attention—these daily images of mutating murk somehow seemed suspended in my mind. I would think of the tracks I had seen imbedded in the muck, the marks that remained from people walking, or dogs’ piss stains in the snow, and ruminate upon these collected visuals, then paint these slush patterns from my mind upon returning to my studio.
“Rock Bottom Riser” installation
Kate: You have two upcoming projects in Iceland. How did you make that connection?
Stephanie: I will be a resident artist at Norðanbál Gamli Skóli (The Old School), in Hrísey, and Gullkistan in Laugarvatn, both in Iceland during the winter of 2015. Since I was young, I was drawn to the North. I have always had a fixation with the Arctic and decided that I wanted to visit as many locales bordering or above the 49th parallel north during my lifetime. While I was living in Chicago I found myself often thinking of snow, mountains, wide abounding spaces, and was longing for those spaces that I knew in my youth. With this in mind, I returned to the desert.
At this point in my life, I am spending so much physical time in a space that is so opposite what I feel most comfortable in. I knew that I wanted to make a series of work concerning snow, hibernation, and deep winter. From there, I applied to a few residencies in Iceland and started planning for my move. To create work while immersed in Iceland’s winter will be a remarkable opportunity.