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Artist Interview – Whitney Stephens

I recently did some gallery hopping in Denver, which has some really great art by the way, and met Whitney Stephens while on my jaunt. She was working at Gildar Gallery and gave me some great gallery and museum suggestions. Luckily I discovered during our conversation that she is also a pretty sweet artist.

Whitney Stephens Brain Fog“Brain Fog” acrylic, watercolor, marker on treated paper, 2012

What inspired the ‘brain fog’ series?

I’ve dealt with bouts of depression my whole life, and after graduating with my BFA I fell into a terrible spell that lasted months. It’s hard enough dealing with this invisible force in your life, that doesn’t even make sense to yourself, and even more so to communicate that to others. While in the midst of this spell I was offered a solo show at City’O’City in Denver, CO. It was my first big break after college and I really wanted to create a whole new unified series of work, but needed to find the thread that would tie them together. It became clear to me that I needed to overcome my mental state and find a way to make sense of it, so that became my catalyst.

Creating art regarding mental disorders can get very tacky, very fast. It has been done a million times and my goal was to approach it from a different angle utilizing personal imagery and experiences to create a story that was broken down into sixteen individual pieces. I focused in on the sensation of brain fog; disconnected, dreamlike, dull, are all vague terms that are used to describe the overall feeling. It is not the typical morbid and dark perception that most people have of depression.

Whitney Stephens From Love Within“From Love Within” acrylic, watercolor, marker on treated paper, 2012

Do you remember when you wanted, or thought about being an artist?

I just happen to be one of the lucky kids that never grew out of making art. It was probably around thirteen years old that it became apparent that I had more of a natural drive to make art than most, and for better or worse I was so fascinated by drawing that I neglected school; so after barely graduating high school my options were very slim. I owed it to my parents, who always supported and encouraged me despite putting them through hell during my youth, to go to college; so art school it was.

Whitney Stephens In Orbit“In Orbit” acrylic, watercolor, marker on treated paper, 2012

Are their any particular influences for your work (other artists, music, literature, etc)?

I love looking at others work as much as making my own, there are specific artists that have really affected my development and taste; Allyson Mellberg being an obvious one, her work is the perfect blend of concept and taste, plus her ethic concerning art is incredible, growing and harvesting her own plants to create pigments she uses. Margaret Kilgallen was one of my earliest influences and exposure to a completely different world of art; I randomly picked up a copy of Beautiful Losers at a bookstore when I was thirteen, fourteen maybe– it changed my perspective of art entirely, up until then I only had a limited exposure to art being from Nebraska. All of the artists surrounding the Mission School really hit home for me. I still love art that has a bit of a folk/analog sensibility to it; more current artists that really interest me are Irana Douer, Angela Dalinger, Misaki Kawai, Unchalee Anantawat, Bianca Casady, Marcel Dzama so many more… Ha, it may be easier to focus on style. All of those artists have some similar qualities to their work but I try to absorb and stay in tune with as much as I can so my taste is always expanding.

Whitney Stephens Owl Eyes“Owl Eyes” acrylic, watercolor, marker on paper, 2012

What are you working on or thinking about now?

I’m currently in the process of making two different zines; one is a collaboration with electronic musicians Charles Ballas and Sean Patrick Faling, who created a tape using analog synthesizers and vintage electronic equipment, which will accompany a twenty page illustrated zine. The other zine is a collaboration with artists Elena Gunderson and Andrew Schultz that is based off of the surrealist game of ‘exquisite corpse'; it will be an interactive zine where the reader can interchange the head, torso, and feet to create different bodies. I’m excited to be working with so many other artists, it keeps me on my toes not knowing the exact outcome!

Whitney Stephens Inside Out“Inside Out” acrylic, watercolor, marker on treated paper, 2012

What will we see from you next?

For some upcoming shows at Abecedarian Gallery and Kaze Gallery, both located in Denver, I’ve been playing around more with how I construct my images, looking back to some of the methods used by Surrealists and Dadaists such as collage, photomontage, automatism, and games including ‘exquisite corpse’ that allow me to focus on design. I have also been revisiting some older works and creating custom printed fabrics from elements of them. Designing/printing fabrics gives me a technical challenge that I love, and is functional!

Whitney Stephens Dissection “Dissection” acrylic, watercolor, marker on treated paper, 2011

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  1. Rianna Lee (Reply) on Friday 26, 2012

    This is quite amazing. I love Whitney’s work and she is a beautiful person. Congrats Whitney!