EK Interview: Stephanie Henderson

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The work of Stephanie Henderson is steeped in symbology and meaning. Her dark and mysterious pieces make me stare in thought, wondering what was going on in her mind when she painted them, and what’s going on in the piece itself.

How have you settled on the color palette you use in your work? How would you describe the tone of your work?
I use a full color palette, but the paintings do have a certain appearance from the many layers of glazes employed. The appearance and content combine to create a recognizable visual quality.

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What about skulls appeal to you? You did an entire show called The Skull Show, what drove you to use skulls as a subject for an entire show? Skulls are often seen as representative of death, the end, what do they mean to you? Is American Spirit a warning? A self-aware love letter to fatalism? Do you believe in an afterlife?
Carrie Lederer curated the Skull Show for Lesher Center’s Bedford Gallery. There were many fantastic artists’ works exhibited, I was fortunate to have been included. The show examined the role skulls play as an iconic image throughout history and their prominent place in counter cultures.

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American Spirit was a continuation of a series begun with Non Omnis Moriar. I believe we continue to live on as energy, death being transitional in this constantly flowing universe. American Spirit, a sort of James Dean swashbuckler, source of hope and dreams, is embodied by immigrant pearls, and ruled by bread and circuses.
Just below American Spirit is Lemon Tree. These pieces seem almost antithetical in their content, one about death, and self-destruction, the other life, and the bounty of nature. Why are they part of the same gallery? What does each mean to you personally? Do you think it important to paint from multiple perspectives and themes? These were also painted far apart, chronologically, Lemon Tree being painted in 1993, and American Spirit being painted in 2014, how did you change, artistically and personally in that time? How did the content of your work parallel your personal change?

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I like working with binaries. When viewed together, each image engenders its opposite. There is also a formal quality, balance and symmetry, rhythm and repetition, color palettes, light and dark, that work on a purely aesthetic level when presented on the same page.

I was obsessed with fertility in 1993 and my work was indicative of my desire to have a child. I remember how wonderful my studio smelled when painting the Lemon Tree and how joyful I was when my son was born.

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The death of several loved ones caused me to think a lot about the ways a life is meaningful and how ones perspective on life changes when confronted with its end. This inspired the Vanitas series.

Some of your work has an ethereal, dream like quality, how active is your imagination? Do you think being imaginative and creative are the same thing? If not, what differentiates them? Can you have one, and not the other?
I wish I had the time and skill to create everything I’ve ever imagined! The unimaginable is still possible.

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You’ve used both ants and wasps in your work, these aren’t subjects that many people use. What importance do they have to you? What is the object in The King’s Chamber? What significance do ants hold in the piece?
Insects, the most abundant creatures on this planet are varied, complicated, and contradictory. Their role in nature is vital. I find that very interesting. The object, a locket, is a gift.

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‘Beyond the pale’ means something that is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. Why did you choose to name a piece this? The piece seems to have a number of symbolic, a skewered eyeball, a silver bull with swords, a golden goblet, a skull with Christ and a rose on it. How did each of these pieces come into the piece? What do they mean individually? What do they mean when taken together?
Wall Street, eyeball tattooing, graffiti, Catholic priests, bullfighting, Christian ideals, a whole network of values was being questioned. Objects in the painting are being attacked, the painting itself appears to have been attacked.

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What are you working on currently?
It’s a large painting I’ve been working on for a really long time, very detailed and colorful.

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What’s your idea of the perfect breakfast?
In a boat with a mimosa in hand, fishing line in the water, watching the sun come up.

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