|STEPHANIE WEBER: EVOCATIVE LAYERS
Stephanie Weber is a very talented painter who lives in Berkeley, California. I was stunned when I first saw her work http://stephanieweberart.com/. I love her layering and the deep, rich, color-lushness of her paintings. I had to chat with her and I’m glad that she agreed.
“… I work layer to layer, developing the whole painting together. As I work one section of the painting, it will begin to speak to another part of the painting, then that part will need to be glazed or enriched or sanded. It feels like a dance …”
MICHAEL: Stephanie, your paintings are exquisite. To me, they look like beautifully-imagined landscapes that have been gift-wrapped on canvas. What's your inspiration?
STEPHANIE: Yes Michael, My inspiration does come in part from landscape. A big sense of nature really moves me and fuels my work. Nature for me means what is beneath the earth’s surface, the strata and layers - also, what lies above – the atmosphere, the cosmos and possibilities. It means the stuff of life – our skin and hair and bones as well as rock, earth and water. Although the paintings come out as abstract works, I am deeply drawn to what is tangible and palpable. I'm not looking to what is specific, but more evocative. I have always worked to reflect my sense of a pulsing and vital world.
My paintings are on honeycomb aluminum panels. Hard surfaces are right for me. I worked on wood panels for years until I hit upon aluminum. I'm able to get qualities I can't get on any other support and they seem to work to my strengths.
MICHAEL: What really strikes me with your work is the vivid color. It looks like Technicolor. How do you achieve this? It looks so rich and vibrant.
STEPHANIE: Oh Michael, Color is SO important in my work. It’s both very intuitive and so precise. I have a very particular color sense and pallet. When it feels right, it's like the right taste on the tip of my tongue.
The painting is mainly in acrylics with thin oil glazes on top. I often make my own paints from dry pigment. I have been using these pigments for years and they give me qualities I cannot get any other way. There is a blue that I love that feels deep, matt and imploded; it has an amazing level of saturation. There are three pages of yellow ochers that I can choose from – each from a different location in the world.
Some areas of color in the sections I create are translucent and the aluminum support panel shimmers underneath – another section or band of the painting next to that might be built up with many layers of more opaque color – lots of painterly richness and layered color. I like the color to have a history. I might be aiming towards a certain red, but I might begin with a green and work toward it. I feel my way toward just the right red – a red with a back story.
I want the color to affect the atmosphere around the painting – so although my paintings are two dimensional, I'm always thinking of the atmosphere around the painting – the psychology of the space.
MICHAEL: When you're working on a layered work, do you paint layer by layer and make sure each layer is right first? Just wondering.
STEPHANIE: I work layer to layer, developing the whole painting together. As I work one section of the painting, it will begin to speak to another part of the painting, then that part will need to be glazed or enriched or sanded. It feels like a dance – sometimes I'm the one who's leading – sometimes the painting is guiding me.
I try to create subtlety in color, textures and surface – for the color to be layered and complex – a sense of warmth of materials, but all with a very elegant simple structure so the viewer can get into the painting slowly and thoughtfully.
MICHAEL: Your work also looks very environmentally-inspired. Are you in Arizona or New Mexico? How much of a role do your surroundings play in your work?
STEPHANIE: I am a Californian, raised in Los Angeles, but I’ve been living in Berkeley for many years. It's hard not to be influenced by the beauty and power of the California coast. But then, I'm also a city girl and love the crackling energy of the city. So there’s the coolness of the aluminum panel as a support and the warmth of the materials - the simple and almost geometric way of painting and a very lush handling.
MICHAEL: You know, I think of Berkeley as this upscale, super-liberal, pot-smoking, free-love, college professor-controlled, tree-hugging, Birkenstock wearing, Toyota Prius driving place where people chant all day and do yoga when they're not painting. How far off the mark am I? LOL.
STEPHANIE: Ha! Now, now Michael. Don’t press my buttons.
MICHAEL: Seriously. I’ve always wondered, never having visited there.
STEPHANIE: Well, maybe the super-liberal part of it is true. I drive a 15-year-old Dodge hatchback, by the way. I will tell you though that you would have to take me kicking and screaming from the bay area. I love it!
MICHAEL: I understand. I have been to San Francisco.
STEPHANIE: I thought some more about your question. How much my surroundings play into my work? I answered that yes, landscape and nature affects me deeply, but also the energy and grit of the urban nature plays a role. I thought about how much I am trying for a coming together – a fusion of opposites, of disparate elements in my paintings. I want each painting to contain a lot – to be both emotionally expressive and reductive – meditative and active, sensual and palpable –what you can imagine and what you can touch. I work to make paintings that are both eccentric and have a very developed beauty – to push the viewer back and lure them in at the same time.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world/art market and how they function? What needs changing?
STEPHANIE: Oh, the business of art. It's always been hard to get a handle on. It takes so much energy to navigate and is often so un-businesslike. It is undergoing incredible changes at this time and it's all happening very quickly. The expanding art fairs with dozens of satellite fares – the many online sites selling art. In San Francisco, a lot of the top downtown galleries have been pushed out of their spaces by the tech industry and are relocating in more edgy and interesting parts of the city. Everything is in flux.
I have been showing and selling my work since I was 22-years-old and I will never completely understand the art world, but feel very lucky to have been able to make a career out of it. I have to be part of it because I want my work to be seen. I have made that choice and it's okay. I have been able to get up in the morning and go to work in the studio and see where the work takes me – how lucky is that?
MICHAEL: Very nice.
STEPHANIE: Of course, I've had some bad experiences in the art world – with gallery dealers – over the years, a few painful experiences – but I have also worked and continue to work with some truly wonderful and committed dealers and galleries. I think they are trying to figure it out just like I am trying to figure it out.
The business of the art world is very different than the making of art – two different animals. I know this deeply and I try to limit the energy I put into the business of art and save it for the actual work itself.
MICHAEL: Have you ever felt you needed to be in New York? A New York art dealer just told me that New York remains the "art capital."
STEPHANIE: In a word, yes – particularly at the beginning of my career. Would it have made me a better artist? Not sure. Everything is so global now. I'm not convinced that being in the hinterlands in Berkeley and part of the Bay Area is all that bad.
I've had five solo shows in New York and a number of group shows over the years. I feel that New York is no longer the only center. Certainly it's the publishing center. Some of the most important or most effecting critical writing on art still comes out of New York and that's quite powerful in the business of art.
But Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas, the whole Bay Area – these are also important centers where rich and exciting work is being done – not to mention China, London and Berlin.
MICHAEL: What's the driving force behind your process as an artist? Intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual?
STEPHANIE: Hmm. Perhaps emotional and intellectual.
Art has been a driving force from early childhood on – to make things, create things, it's what I have always done. It's another language in a way – far more specific for me than words and often more honest – you can't really paint out of the side of your mouth.
Curiosity is also a driving force. I've used new materials and technology when needed. I'm curious when two or three sections of my paintings begin to come together in surprising ways and spark off one another. I ask myself why?
What's creating that energy and how can I push it farther in the painting? I'm pulled by the process of making art; by the excitement and possibility of doing something fresh. I don't have to compromise in the studio and it's a privilege.
P.S. Let's not pretend that ego is not a driving factor.
MICHAEL: Haha! Finally Stephanie, Does your body of work have a message thus far? What do you want people to take away from your work?
STEPHANIE: It's less a specific message to the viewer and more of a conversation – an engagement with the viewer. I want to place the viewer in a space where unexpected associations and resonance might happen. I want the viewer to tap into the beauty and chaos of life.
No, it's not a political message or a specific or didactic message. It's more evocative. Basically, I am trying to make ideas visual and physical. My goal is connection – connection with the viewer on many levels – physical, intellectual and emotional.
MICHAEL: Your work certainly connects with me. Love it. Thanks for chatting Stephanie.
Check out Stephanie Weber at http://stephanieweberart.com/.