Briefly describe the work you do.
My paintings are from on-site observation and are produced out of the experience. They are not literal representations of the forest but are examining the overwhelmingness of this interaction with nature. As our world becomes more technologically driven our experience with nature becomes less direct, mediated through screens, my paintings question ones relationship to nature. Challenging the assumptions of what nature is, how we come to know it, and ultimately, how we interact with it. For me, the night is more alive than the day, especially in the forest. Our visual faculties are lessened by the dark and we are constantly looking to identify noises or smells we are encountering. This results in not truly seeing the forest but feeling it. Our senses are being overwhelmed. My paintings are rooted in this particular action. The seeing but not seeing, the not seeing but feeling.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I am the descendant of a very long line of artist’s, especially painters. My grandmother’s house was full, floor to ceiling, with paintings. I specifically remember one trip when my brother and I were staying at her house and we would act out stories and battles and these paintings would be the backdrop of whatever event we would imagine. I can see now, looking back to those paintings years later, that they had a huge impact on the choices I make as an artists and in my paintings. From subjects, color choices, and even marks.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I would say that my studio practice is not the traditional concept of ”being in a studio.” I consider my easel my studio. I have corners and boxes and closets full of my studio supplies, but my studio is the outdoors. Whether its the forest outside my house or the Grand Canyon. My supplies travel with me and I with them. I build and stretch canvases on the floor, I gesso outside on the picnic table, and I cannot separate my life from a studio life, its all one and the same.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The role of the educator, which I absolutely love, from young to old. When I first started making art I never dreamed that I would one day be teaching others how to create. I’ve had many exceptional teachers and mentors along my journey and I would not be who or where I am today without their guidance. Its an incredible feeling to hear back from a student that I thought years ago and realize that I had an impact. I hope to one day be of the standards that my mentors are.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
A few years back I struggled with trying to set aside a specific time to work. Painting outside I assumed I was limited to painting when the sun was in the sky. This conflicted with the fact that I am a night person. I am most alive, most creative, and most myself when the moon is in the sky. When I finally accepted this fact was when I began to explore nocturnal scenes. I bought a head lamp and have never looked back.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I would say the biggest change in the last five years has been the move to painting outside. Previously, I would do small studies outdoors and then come back into a traditional studio to make larger paintings. I felt that there was a missing link in the work, the experience in the painting was not reflecting my vision. So the move to small, medium, and large scale paintings in the open air was a must.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I am very fortunate to have a very supporting family and group of friends. Even if they do not quite understand what I am doing, they are very encouraging and supportive. I think this support group has allowed me to take chances in my work that I may not have taken otherwise.
I read a lot of nature writing. My favorite being John Muir. To see the excitement come off the page with just words influences me greatly. To have that kinship through nature inspires me to make more work.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
There have been many opportunities for careers outside of art. I love nature and the outdoors so park ranger was always something that excited me but when it came down to it, art is always my choice. I never seriously considered anything else.
Stephanie Chambers is an artist and educator. She currently teaches at Judson University and Trinity Christian College. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Northern Illinois University and both her Master of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas. Born in Austin Texas she lived in Texas for twenty-seven years before moving to Illinois. She currently lives and works in Sycamore, Illinois. Her work consists mostly of on-site, all prima paintings. Working in nature allows her direct influence from her subjects, which currently explore nocturnal forest environments.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.