I have fairly eclectic taste when it comes to the visual arts. When it comes to paintings, for example, sometimes I feel the need for the classic, sweeping romanticism of J. M. W. Turner, and at other times I’m looking for a wild ride through the looking glass into the anarchic world of Max Ernst’s dadaism. Folk art appeals as much as fine art, and vice versa. It’s all part and parcel of the ongoing communication between the artist and the viewer that I find so compelling. I’m looking for someone who challenges me, who fires up my imagination, touches my heart, and engages my mind. Give me someone who will get in my face and make me question the very nature of my being. That’s what I want when I look at a painting.
Regardless of the medium, artistic expression provides us with the unparalleled potential to transcend the barriers to true communication that language and culture impose on us. It liberates us from the confines of the “here and now,” and allows us to imagine and to feel. It’s a shared experience that provides a vehicle for travel beyond the temporal boundaries of our linear existence. The artist creates a work and then we then create our own interpretation. In the process we become a part of the work, and we also become artists ourselves. Marcel Duchamp expounded upon the nature of this relationship when he stated, “Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity. To all appearances the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.”
In order to receive the message we have to open ourselves up to all of the possibilities that a work of art, whether a painting or a sculpture, a poem or a song, presents to us. As always with art, what it says to me might not be the same thing as what it says to you. The true importance lies in the inner conversation that it inspires us to have with ourselves. This is why I consider art, in all its myriad forms, to be one of the highest of callings in a world desperately in need of real communication and a new Enlightenment. Albert Camus had it right when he wrote, “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
All of which brings me around to my one of my favourite artists in any medium, painter & mixed media creator Stephanie Steele. Her art is passionate, eclectic and visionary… and so is she. I’ve been a fan of her work for several years now (I included some of it in my book The Other Side of Truth in 2012 as an example of how art can serve as the ultimate tool for non-verbal communication), and I thought this would be a great time to ask her a few questions about her life and her how she views the creative process.
KIMBALL: I’m going to start with what always seems like the simplest question on its face, but it’s actually the one that a lot of people have the most difficulty answering. Who is Stephanie Steele?
STEELE: I am the mother of a wonderful and fantastic son whose theatrics and expressive attitude bring me joy and inspiration daily. I am also the step parent of a wonderful and incredible young man whose outlook on life is inspirational and example setting. I am the daughter of two caring and giving parents who provided me with the freedom of expression with no bounds and who encouraged me to pursue my dreams, ideas and adventures. A fond memory of my fathers’ unbridled encouragement was during a viewing of a variety show on the television. A tap dancer was performing with a fiddle player. I immediately knew at that point of my life I HAD to be a tap dancer, but I did not have the appropriate footwear to make that glorious “clickity clack” sound. My father immediately began cobbling a pair of tap shoes with the aid of a bottle caps firmly attached to the soles. But there was another challenge. The living room was carpeted. I HAD to perform in front of the television with these virtual partners. My father brought out a large cutting board that he had fashioned from a kitchen renovation and thus, I had my stage. The experience of creation, joy and accomplishment were only topped by the beautiful music I created as I shuffled and danced across that cutting board. My mother created beautiful handmade garments. The meticulousness and care she gave every piece taught me the respect and admiration of her efforts. She encouraged me through every project that was important to a growing mind and being; every painting, drawing, invention, fashion item, mud pie and not so apple turnovers was applauded. I am the granddaughter of a truly incredible human being. He taught me to “Love what you do and do what you love”. It will be the most wonderful journey you’ll ever partake in through life. I am the sibling to one very caring, kind, intelligent, beautiful sister and four very hard working and caring brothers. I am a human being.
KIMBALL: Is there one person who really inspired you to follow the road less traveled?
STEELE: There are many. Some really stand out for me. Encouragement is priceless. Heather Kennedy MacIsaac has encouraged me from the day I met her 12 years ago. The countless ways she has shown encouragement and unwavering support are unmeasurable. There are so many artistic endeavors I have experienced because she made it possible. Another person that has inspired me is Rose Stylen. She has shown me that community involvement is key to community growth and stability. Her commitment to volunteering and her community has inspired me tremendously. Last but certainly not least is Donna Robson for her effort and belief in positive happenings not only for myself but for the entire community, and most importantly the community of youth. She gave me the tools to have courage and faith in myself. While others looked down, she has been there for me standing tall. Three women who give selflessly, three human beings. Three humans being amazing.
KIMBALL: You’re from Louisbourg, which is about as remote as one can get from the bright lights and the big city that people sometimes associate with the art world. How have your small-town roots informed your work?
STEELE: For me small town country living is what brings me the most inspiration. It is peaceful. The pace of life is slow, calm and steady. Although inspired by many experiences, it is the ever changing skies and sun-setting landscapes of the island that have been inspiring me for the latest moment.
KIMBALL: What is your creative process like? Take us from the moment of inspiration to a finished work.
STEELE: My creative process varies. At times I could sit for hours in deep thought in a way calculating and breaking down a painting in my thoughts long before I lay a brush to the canvas. I’ve jumped out of sleep and created a painting in moments. I have worked at paintings for years. And some just a few hours. I have been involved in performance art creating and living on the edge and off the energy of the audience. Many of my works are connected to each other. Some will tell a story at a later time when all of the works come together. Others have already told their story.
KIMBALL: You have an affinity for mixed media collage work, which as a genre has definitely become more popular in recent years. What interests you most about combining mediums, and what do you feel makes your work unique and truly your own?
STEELE: Mixed media collage work is a fascinating experience for me. Tecchnology plays a big part in the mix. But I real enjoy hands on application of a mixed media collage. I am also a huge fan of spray and stencil art. Having the opportunity to explore so many types of media and expression is what excites me about mixed media collage. Glueing tiny mirrors and magazine clipping can become metilicous but when complete is like the feeling you get from finishing a puzzle. Every piece just where it belongs. When it comes to my work I think what makes it unique is my explorative attitude. I have always had the desire to invent and create. I employ bright colors and smooth gradients flowing together as this pleases my eye and mind. As i mentioned I enjoy telling a story within my work. I make use of many types of media like video, photography, live performance, painting, and print.
KIMBALL: As you know, art is by its very nature the epitome of subjective. Like all artists, I’m sure you’ve received both positive and negative feedback in your career. How you handle the negative criticism, and does it help make you a better artist?
STEELE: There are all kinds of criticisms in life. It certainly exists in the art world. And I am no stranger to criticism. Constructive, positive and negative. Negative criticism can be hurtful or helpful. Best served honestly. When dealing with negative criticism, for me it is important to remember that it is the opinion of another person. And I can choose how to deal with it. I can make the choice to move forward or stay stagnant. My choice is to always move forward. Without making mistakes and moving forward nothing changes. For me as a creative person it is important to let go of fear of people rejecting my ideas thoughts and creations. Creating is what brings me joy.
KIMBALL: Pablo Picasso said that the artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place. How do you channel your own emotions when you’re being creative, and how much do you draw from the emotions of the people that you know?
STEELE: In my thinking the emotions I experience are just as much the media as the paint is. It is from my state of mind that the creations exist. Not only do others emotions inspire my creative experience. Their lives and stories also affect my work.
KIMBALL: Winston Churchill wrote that without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd, but that without innovation, it is a corpse. Do you agree, and if so how do you balance the need to look forward with the need to respect and draw from the past?
STEELE: I do agree with that statement. It is within tradition that I find consistency and stability. With innovation there is an opportunity to invent and add to the past. I look to the work of the masters such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, JMW Turner and Edgar Degas as their work is steeped in great tradition yet was innovative and forward thinking during their time. I look to todays artists like Banksy for his innovative ways of communicating his ideas and thoughts. And Marina Abramovic for passion dedication and mastery in performance art.
KIMBALL: What role do you believe art plays in the broader community, particularly in the modern era of increasing social dislocation? Can it serve as a unifying force?
STEELE: Art plays a huge role in within community. It is something that can communicate as quickly as the population desires. In this social media sea there are a lot of ideas and messages flashing as fast as our eyes blink. Art is a unifying force and is magical to me in that sense. Taking my idea from fruition to life and sharing those ideas, perhaps inspiring someone to move that idea forward is very special. Yes, in this time of increasing dislocation I believe that art combined with the force of social media will help serve as a unifying force by way of our ideas being developed further and communicated globally.
KIMBALL: How much of that desire to be a performer, to be seen, is part of your make-up as an artist, and how much of yourself are you truly revealing and how much of it is as much a creation as the rest of your work?
STEELE: The desire to be a performer and to be seen is a big part of my make-up as an artist. At times I think I reveal pieces of my true self. With that being said, the creation of who I am is ever changing and evolving. Be it a facade or the portrayal of my vision of reality.
KIMBALL: What does the future hold for Stephanie Steele?
STEELE: The near future will be the beginning of a new educational journey as I begin to study at the Toronto School of Art. With hope the future will be filled with plenty of creation, growth and love.
KIMBALL: Thank you, Stephanie.
STEELE: My pleasure, Paul.
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