Briefly describe the work you do.
In recent years, my motivation for creating dialog through imagery and form has shifted from expressing poetic narratives into highlighting perceived boundaries built from one’s cultural environment. Through interplay of media and iconography, I create artworks that allow viewers to consider both the power and shortcomings of these outside dynamics. My work challenges viewers’ assumptions and offers new perspectives of cultural and spiritual judgments.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Growing up as a Southeastern Suburban Catholic, I was raised around Catholic iconography that my Southern Baptist peers thought labeled me as heathen (my family “worshiped statues”). I suspect that this and the other ways in which I learned the power objects have to designate someone as good or bad, right or wrong, rich or poor, etc. have played a roll in my sculptural pursuits. I often use materials from home (upholstery fabric, embroidery hooks, figurines) and a suburban yard (concrete, grass, fences) and mix them with simple sticks and stones to suggest something at odds between human nature and cultural expectations. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” a popular combative childhood taunt, expresses the desire that labels won’t effect us—but they do and I try to play off of our problematic uses of them throughout my work.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
As a sculptor, I am not chiseling away at marble in my studio or seeking a grand, gestural form that stands out on a pedestal in all its glory. Instead I’m usually hovering over the ground playing around with construction materials, dirty & quite content, leaving finished work in more humble viewing plane. I sketch out works by reconfiguring forms in space and photographing them so I can contemplate various poetic narratives accessible to viewers. To get an in-process critique, I often rely on social media connections or bar conversations hovered over my phone’s photo albums to elicit responses from my peers. Much of the physical work I do happens in my studio or the shop, but my studio time exists beyond that; I meet with folks at coffee shops, network online, go on a walk, etc. My practice exists in ways I suspect much of my peers experience; it is negotiated around everyday life in the service a more common experience.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I was a teenager, I think I considered an artist to be a true independent—driven to transfer their inner thoughts and turmoil into something provocative or beautiful. Now I value an artist as someone who connects with her community and understands her impact as part of a conversation that is greater than her own. As a collaborator and educator, I try to stay grounded in this idea.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
Keeping my studio schedule flexible each week allows me to do my job and still muscle through my creative processes. As an art professor, you give your creative energy away in the form of shared insight, suggested explorations, and supportive critique and some days after negotiating the dance of it all, there isn’t much left to put into your own practice. But instead of getting frustrated about it, I keep flexible space in my week to “refuel” my inspiration and head to studio when I have enough uninterrupted time to focus on my own creative headspace.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Certain materials continue to come back into play in my work: religious figurines, velvet-covered objects from nature, white picket fences, dirt & turf, etc. They are revisited as part of a conversation I have continuously had with myself over the years; where and how are we really grounded into our spirituality and what triggers the lines we draw in our understanding of things? My own answers have shifted as I’ve gained a broader perspective moving to various regions within the United States and interacting with new communities abroad. Even though my portfolio may look different than it did 5 years ago, the heart of what I do remains much the same.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Shared personal narratives and spiritual perspectives from others challenge the direction of my work & I am especially grateful for the inspiration I’ve gotten working closely with my collaborators in the BASK Collective (Belle Baggs, movement, Alexandra Teague, poetry, & Kristin Elgersma, piano) over the past year. I am also currently obsessed with Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I want to make work in the way in which that she writes. Her approach to navigating an open-ended question and an understanding of her experience is beautiful. Music also plays a pivotal role in my studio. Pitbull, Whitney Houston and Bluegrass are better than coffee.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Since I have always wished I had taken more time to pursue it and they have fewer materials to move around, I would become a poet if their kind would have me. Or maybe I would run a community arts organization in a town looking to celebrate who they are creatively; I feel their collective inspiration would feed me well and make me proud to say “this is home.”
Stacy Isenbarger’s work simultaneously investigates ideas and materials, transforming the familiar into forms that challenge our assumptions of our environment and cultural barriers we build for ourselves. Stacy lives in Moscow, Idaho, USA and is an Assistant Professor of Art + Design at University of Idaho. Stacy received her MFA at the University of Georgia and her BFA at Clemson University. Stacy is a founding member of the BASK Collective and the President of FATE (Foundations in Art: Theory & Education).
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.