Daryn Wright heads out to Lake Errock, BC to chat with Suburbia Issue artist, Shelley Stefan. Check out Stefan’s up-coming exhibition at Make Creative on Thursday August 28, 2014: Multiplicity of Self, Queer Portraits. Read the full article in Sad Mag’s Suburbia Issue, out in Fall 2014.
Shelley Stefan stokes the fire in her wood stove.
Her small studio is an artist’s dream: heavy wooden doors open up to a tiny room filled with tubes of oil paints, a cushy armchair, and various bric-a-brac—a seventies bear lamp, an American flag. The most striking element of the space, however, are the self-portraits that cover the walls from floor to ceiling. In black charcoal, images of Stefan look back like from a broken mirror—some look angry, some sad, some pensive.
Stefan, whose work includes “The Lesbian Effigies” (2006) and “B is for Butch” (2010), studied at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and the Maine College of Art, and currently teaches in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley. Growing up in Chicago, Stefan has lived in several urban centers but now calls Lake Errock home. The rural setting, far from a stone’s throw from the city, seems at odds with the politics of identity, sexuality, and gender at work in her paintings.
Despite this, Stefan seems at home. Throughout the interview the 40-year-old painter kept the stove, whose masonry she laid herself, well-fed with the firewood she chops and stores just outside.
Shelley Stefan: Right now I’ve got about four series on the go. In the studio here there’s a series of self-portraits—I’m aiming to do hundreds of mirror-based [self-portraiture], kind of old-school, academic, kind of dialing it back to the traditional methods of introspection.
I find there’s something really neat when there’s the human form live, and you surrender a bit of accuracy, but what you get is kind of like raw imperfect humanness that I really like. I’m working with my own face for awhile, just to see if I do this 300 times, am I seeing different elements of myself? Some of them are off, some of them are moody, and some of them look like my ancestors.
They all seem different. They’re all me looking in a mirror at different times. It’s almost embarrassing, and I think that’s the point. I’m at the point in my career where I kind of want to allow myself to be vulnerable.
Sad Mag: Self-portraiture—particularly the kind you’re doing, with a mirror—is rooted in an old art form. There seems to be a connection between this practice and the rural space you reside in. Do you think they’re related in any way?
SS: I think that there’s a part of me that’s very raw and sublime. I think that comes first. I have Italian ancestors who were artists, and that can mean many things but what it means for me is there’s this intense passionate anchor. So having my studio in a rural space like this is a way to ground and isolate that kind of passionate energy in a way that ironically isn’t ego-based. It’s almost like it’s a laboratory and I’m trying to keep the dish clear. So I guess on some level as an artist, my choice of a rural studio feels like the best substrate to tease out the rawest and purest emotion in my work. I’m really influenced by my surroundings.
SM: Through the process, have you learned anything about yourself?
SS: I’m still discovering. Through my works in the past few years I’ve discovered a lot about interiority. When I’ve been working in portraiture, I’ve realized on some level, self-portraiture, if done properly, allows for uncovering different facets.
I feel completely connected to my Italian ancestors when I paint and draw. It’s crazy. There’s something about listening to Italian opera and being in here and being like, “They get me.” When I’m painting and I’m in the middle of it and there’s Italian opera on I’m like, “Those fuckers are crazy and so am I and it’s okay, because you’re human. You’re alive on this planet.”
You can see Stefan’s work up-close and personal at her upcoming solo exhibition at Make (257 East 7th Ave) on Thursday August 28th from 7– 10pm featuring Italian-themed beverages and the musical stylings of DJ Ruggedly Handsome.
Multiplicity of Self – Queer Portraits
August 28 to September 22, 2014
OPENING RECEPTION:Thursday August 28, 2014 from 7– 10pm