INTERVIEW WITH ADRIENNE STEIN
Wrightsville, Pennsylvania ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: There is an unmistakable melancholy throughout your work, Adrienne. A gentle wistfulness. These young women in your portraits may know who they are and even where they’re going, but it’s not an easy journey, or one traversed lightly, is it?
By rendering oneself sensitive as an artist, can there be also a great cost that comes with that?
Adrienne Stein: It is the vulnerability.
My work is personal, containing symbols and codes for things that are taking place in my life or what I yearn for. The stakes are high, so when others disapprove of your work, they essentially disapprove of you. It is a great risk. The life of an artist is full of self-doubt and isolation. Yet this is a part of everyone’s experience.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Waiting, we are reminded of how much patience is also required. And faith.
Adrienne Stein: Absolutely.
This image was born when I was spending the night at my parents’ house, and my dad was away on a business trip. I walked past my parents’ room to find my mom asleep with the lamp still on, covers pulled all the way up to her neck, and my dad’s side of the bed turned down, as if she anticipated his arrival at any moment. My own reflection is in my mother’s mirror in the background. She became, in my mind, a symbol for all people who wait expectantly and vulnerably in the dark night.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is there ever a temptation to alter a piece you’re working on, to make it less emotionally revealing?
Adrienne Stein: Yes. As a matter of fact, it is happening to me right now. I just finished a painting that is really intense. It is large and very detailed and contains some uncomfortable things to look at, but also a lot of lush beauty. It’s abundant with personal symbolism. Every day when I walk into my studio, I fight the urge to paint out the uncomfortable things to make it all fit with the “beautiful” parts of it. So far, I have resisted the urge!
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Are you referring to your new piece, Babel? Do you sense that the theme of excess is an uncomfortable one for many of us? We say we want to live a life of abundance, but there is much guilt attached. That slippery slope of how much one truly needs. Especially when the majority of people in this world are struggling. Art itself is often viewed as an extra, the fat that is the first to get trimmed off from impoverished school budgets. What does abundance look like to you? Is art still relevant during lean economic times?
Adrienne Stein: Yes. Babel is my first large-scale still life, after I fell in love with 17th century Dutch Still Life painting, but it is an uncomfortable painting on many levels – in its outrageous excess, but also in the rawness of seeing meat in its original form, and the erosion of the once lush and beautiful scene by insects and vermin. It is a decadently decaying “vanitas.”
I agree that art itself is often perceived as a cultural excess, but it is a way to see reality in a new way, and to create meaning and connection in the world, essential even in a hard economic climate. For me, this painting was a way to express how I feel now in my late 20’s. The idealistic Disney dreams of my youth are being replaced by life experiences. My former assumptions, expectations and comfort zones are being slowly eaten away. Life becomes more interesting and full of activity, like this painting.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is the responsibility of the artist to the greater community?
Adrienne Stein: I think it is to open a door to possibility, the way a great story or myth does.
I always felt that artists, poets, and prophets fill the same category in society: to say that imagination is important, beauty is important, and the truth of the world is more than its literal interpretation.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Universal Mother of Compassion, you feature the one unifier that connects all of humanity: mother, with whom we experience our first relationship ~ one that can both humble and reassure us. What or who was your inspiration for this piece?
Adrienne Stein: Though I was raised in the church, I was not raised Catholic, so the concept of the strong maternal figure of Mother Mary as an icon of devotion was new to me. A friend took me to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, where there are scores of shrines to the Virgin Mary. Its purpose is to serve all of the immigrant populations that comprise the melting pot of America, so there are shrines to Madonnas from every different culture: Asian Madonnas next to European Madonnas and African Madonnas. I loved that Mary’s identity was amorphous as she took the form of each nation who reached to her in prayer, and each individual who imagined the comforting figure of his or her own native mother and ancestors. It was a moving experience, and I painted Universal Mother of Compassion in response. Two of my friends posed for this diptych – one of Irish descent and one of African descent.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: One of the things that moves me most about your work is the self-possession exuded by the women in your paintings. Here are females of all races, ages, shape and sizes, each in complete ownership of her body, emotions, of the very narrative of her life.
I’m curious to hear what it’s been like for you as a woman artist. Do you experience a camaraderie with other women painters navigating the same waters as you? Is there a sense that there is room enough for everyone at the table?
Adrienne Stein: Thank you for perceiving that in my work. When I visited Morocco in 2008, one of my most striking memories was visiting a Moroccan Hammam [public bath house]. In an Islamic society where one assumes that women have conservative public lives, they defy that assumption in the Hammam. Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes are together laughing, joking, catching up – and in the nude, no less! It was such an intimate, communal, and shameless space. I loved this great collage of femininity before my eyes.
In my experience, women artists are rooting for one another more than competing against one another. Recently, especially through the “Women Painting Women” movement, talented female artists have gained much-deserved and long-overdue attention. Worldwide, there seem to be more exhibits featuring all female artists, which also provides opportunities for women artists to meet each other. I have made amazing supportive friends through the WPW.
It has never been a better time to be a female artist.
Adrienne Stein (b. 1986) is an emerging artist living and working in Wrightsville, PA. She holds an MFA from Boston University and a BFA Magna Cum Laude, from Laguna College of Art & Design. Adrienne studied under many gifted and influential instructors throughout the Unites States, France, and Italy. Her work forms a bridge to the present, reanimating historical painting genres with fresh insight and imagery. The worlds she paints are inhabited by figures, folklore, archetypes, and natural elements that are fueled by a sense of personal as well as universal myth. Close friends and family members are reinterpreted in lush and magical environments that form the nexus between reality and fantasy, expressed through an unconscious world of symbolic imagery. Adrienne draws inspiration from travel, art history, literature, and the richly textured landscape surrounding her home and studio on the Susquehanna River.
To view more of her work, please visit her website.