When I first came across Oakland-based mixed media artist Stephanie Hatch‘s work, I sat and pondered for a few minutes as to why it looked vaguely familiar to me. Then it hit me that the “intestine” style drawing in her work reminded me of the elusive street artist Swampy, who we featured a while back. Despite the similarities in graphic style, Stephanie’s work jumped out at me as strikingly feminine splashed with a dose of strange. The sexuality of her collages with cut-outs taken from magazine editorials, interrupted by this alien intestinal-like form, kind of makes you stop and re-examine the modern concept of beauty.
Stephanie recently completed a “Drawing a Day” project, which she started in 2013, which she says shaped her current style. Her work is currently being exhibited in a show called “It Came From Oakland” at Glamarama, which is of course in Oakland. So if in town, stop by and check it out, it runs until August 3. In the meantime, have a read of her interview:
LF: Hey Stephanie! What can we expect in 2014?
SH: Lots of new work! I’m currently in the midst of a new series that blends collage, drawing, painting, and embroidery to explore identity, addressing ideas about beauty, societal expectations, and personal struggles. My process allows new realities to evolve out of my chosen collage elements; the new realities exist in stark contrast to that in which we live, offering a space for contemplation. The format of these works present a roughly portrait like figure, composed mostly of collage, out of which grows repetitive forms. My aim is to have these forms evoke emotions and questions that are further identified by embroidered text over the entire image.
LF: You’re a mixed media artist through and through, unwilling to settle on one medium. What excites you about working with so many different mediums?
SH: When I first started focusing on mixed media work, I was trying to break down barriers in my art practice. It was about creating freedom in my work. Up until 2006 I was pretty conventional, painting on canvas, and drawing on paper mostly. My work was very flat. After my first trip to New York City, I realized that an artist could break all the supposed rules that I had been taught up until that point. I started incorporating embroidery into my work, affixing my photographs to canvases and painting over them. It allowed for much greater visual, tactile, and ideological depth to develop in my work. I’m able to achieve different textures by using different mediums, and it’s really fun to go to “scrap” shops and see potential in so many different discarded materials. (In case you’re not familiar with scrap shops, they are like thrift stores, but focus on donated items and materials that have the potential for creative reuse. They are dirt cheap and I love them.)
I’ve also started to experiment with installation, creating web-like patterns on the walls of galleries using thread and quilting pins to transform the space into a unique environment for my 2D work.
LF: I’m in love with your work from 2013, which seems to have taken a different direction from some of your past work, specifically with the black and white intestine-like patterning. How did this style develop?
SH: Thank you. My style did change during 2013 thanks both to my move to Oakland, and a “drawing a day” project that I designed for myself. By creating a drawing from start to finish every day for a year, I explored a lot of different styles, and the intestinal form was one that stuck. By pairing it with disconnected collage body parts, I found that the intestinal form represented distress, distortion, and transformation. I also find a meditative quality in creating repetitive forms, as they suggest a struggle between order and chaos in their irregularities.
LF: Most of your collages incorporate the female form. Why specifically female?
SH: My perspective and understanding of the world is distinctly female. Growing up, I was taught about beauty standards and etiquette that my brother wasn’t. I say this without resentment, but merely as an observation. I also spent a lot of time in middle school and high school with my girlfriends looking at beauty and fashion magazines. In my experience, most girls do this, and it teaches us to desire certain things from our bodies; they build ideas of perfection in our heads. In a young woman’s quest for self actualization and identity, these magazines do play a role. That’s why I use them in my collages. I cut up these images of perfection, taking away their given power, and use the pieces to create new realities that expose some element of emotion or identity that goes deeper than surface appearances.
LF: You use magazines and cut up images of beauty. Is this a statement about the current notion of what beauty shout be in society today?
SH: Yes, that’s a big part of it. We all know that those magazines present unrealistic beauty standards, and that fallacy should not be ignored. I’m also interested in our brain’s unconscious connections and the way we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world – how do we get from one idea to the next? What are the connections? Looking at magazines can be a routine pastime, but I like looking at elements of images and re-imagining their purpose; for example, a bent arm detached from a body can look like a nose when paired with lip-like shapes. When taken out of context, some images, like a landscape, can suggest emotional states as well. By slicing apart and rearranging elements of ideals presented in magazines, I am able to visually create new portraits that draw on information from all experiences of our lives.
LF: What does “strange” mean to you?
SH: I think “strange” refers to a view of reality to which one is not accustomed. Sometimes art gets described as strange because it makes us venture into new areas of our brain, trying to understand the world from the viewpoint of someone else. Strange stuff can be awesome, exciting, perplexing, and give us a lot to think about.
LF: Lately you’ve been adding embroidery to your pieces. What is it about the texture of string on a 2D image?
SH: I’ve been incorporating embroidery into my 2D pieces for about 8 years now off and on. As a child I was taught basic embroidery, sewing, and crochet as creative and practical pastimes by my grandma and mom. I’ve always had an appreciation for crafts, and I like using these traditional home materials in a non-traditional way. Use of thread in my art references inspirational women in my life, questions a material’s functionality, and presents an element of tension in my work by presenting a soft flexible material on a flat surface in a rigid fashion. I think this tension can be powerful when I embroider text on my art that refers to emotional turmoil, or questions societal practices.
LF: Can you talk about your “Drawing a Day” project, where you completed one drawing a day for 365 days? What were the challenges of this, if any?
SH: In July of 2012 I decided I needed to create an artistic challenge for myself. I’d been living in a small town for years, working a steady day job, and I wasn’t challenging myself enough. This project was about exploring new styles, creating discipline, and refocusing my work. There were many days that I would get home from work that I did not want draw. Sometimes I would make myself stay up far past my bedtime just so I could finish my drawing. A lot of the drawings are really ugly and uninteresting, which pains me a little, but I’m glad I pushed through those low-inspiration days and still took time to focus on my project.
I also had a physical challenge 4 months into the project; I had to have surgery on my wrist. Therefore, I had to draw with my non-dominant hand for a while, which produced entertaining results.
LF: You’re back and forth between Oakland, CA and Oregon. Why both places?
SH: I moved to Oakland last year, but up until that point I lived in Oregon. I haven’t done any work in Oregon since my move; I’ll always visit though. I have many loved ones that live there and it is a beautiful place that I will always call home.
LF: What artists are inspiring to you right now?
SH: I greatly admire Wangechi Mutu. She influenced my collage style a lot. Her work is fierce, beautiful, grotesque, fearless, and informed. I never tire of looking at her art. I was first exposed to her work in 2006 and she definitely inspired me to explore mixed media. I’m also a fan of Ghada Amer, whose embroidery work is a testament to dedication and image appropriation. Also, I regularly go to local galleries in Oakland and San Francisco. I see a lot of amazing work that inspires me on a daily basis. There are so many talented and hard working artists in this area, and I love the street art – there’s always something to look at when I go out.
LF: How do you get off, literally or figuratively?
SH: Looking at art, exploring new places, indulging in delicious food, beautiful landscapes, and sharing intelligent conversation. Also, a really good laugh is the best.
LF: How FAST do you live?
SH: Not too fast. I like to go slowly enough that I can see the details, appreciate nature, and find hidden beauty where others speed by unaware. I grew up in the woods outside of a small town; quiet and nature are important to me.