FEATURED ARTIST: Stephanie Metz
It is a shiny New Year for the $5 Art Contest. And if you haven’t realized it, I try to co-ordinate the Featured Artists I chose with the season, the weather and, well, my mood. Given the time of year and the constant presence of butter-laden comfort foods in my house, I have been in the mood for something comforting, something soft, something knowable. Well, I don’t always get my way.
This month’s artist works in the soft and fuzzy, but she left me with an uneasy feeling. After reviewing her work, I had more questions than answers and the sinking feeling I might have seen something that wasn’t any of my business. I feel a little voyeuristic when feasting on her work. I am uncomfortable, and I am okay with that. On behalf of ArtAndArtDeadlines.com, I am proud to announce the Featured Artist chosen from the December entries to the $5 Art Contest is Stephanie Metz. Her artwork is mysterious but overtly human. Let Stephanie take YOU out of your comfortable place and inspire you for the New Year…
Stephanie Metz lives and works in San Jose, California and was a featured artist in Bay Area Currents 2009 at ProArts Gallery, Oakland, CA. She has exhibited at Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco and New York, and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. Her numerous group exhibitions include Creatures: From Bigfoot to the Yeti Crab at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Idaho, Formex Stockholm 2008 in Stockholm, Sweden, and Transmission: Experience at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Gallery, Singapore. Metz was honored with two Center for Cultural Innovation Grants in 2011 and 2009.
Her artwork has been reviewed and featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Fiberarts Magazine, Craft Magazine, Artweek Magazine, and PBS. She received her BFA in Sculpture at the University of Oregon. Metz’s focus is overly domesticated creatures, especially those whose form has overgrown their function.
What do you consider your media? Felted Wool? Mixed Media? “I describe myself as a ‘Sculptor’, and I mostly use wool, but I feel free to use other things when they’re needed. I’m known for my felted wool work, and I truly love the medium, but I don’t identify myself as a fiber artist or a felt artist or a wool artist—all of which apply, but really narrow down the discussion with a lot of preconceptions. I have in the past listed my medium as ‘felted wool’ on labels for my work, but recently saw a show of Rosemarie Trockel’s wrapped yarn canvases described simply as ‘wool,’ and really liked the simplicity of it—probably because I feel that I’m always having to push forward the idea of wool as just another medium with which to sculpt, rather than a way to draw a line between art and craft. So I guess I’m saying my medium is wool.”
Talk to me about the process you use. “My process is ridiculously simple: I poke at masses of wool fibers with sharp, notched needles from various directions until they compact into nearly solid forms. Needle felting is a way to make non-woven textiles, but unlike wet felting which tangles the wool fibers through heat and motion, needle felting accomplishes the tangling by mechanically forcing the wool fibers against each other, where they become interlocked thanks to the microscopic scales that cover the hairs.
“Eventually the fluffy wool becomes more like a solid object, given a particular shape by the process of turning it over to reach different areas, adding on more wool, compacting it down, and all the time poking and poking and poking. Repeat. I enjoy pushing the known limits of a material and a technique, and since I had no background whatsoever in fibers when I stumbled across needle felting, I didn’t know what rules I might be breaking.” For those interested, there are some great process pictures on her Facebook page.
How do you feel about what I suspect are never ending questions, like mine, about your process? “Sometimes I wish I were a painter, because then when people ask what I do I could just say ‘I’m a Painter’ which either ends the discussion or opens on to a discussion of ideas and themes, rather than detailing the physical application of materials. Working in an unusual and craft-heavy medium means I have a lot of practice talking about my technique, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s great that people find it interesting, and I’m enthusiastic about sharing the ins and outs of needle felting—but that doesn’t always leave time to talk about the ideas behind the work. “ Watch a time lapse video of 35 hours of work in 4:14 minutes.
Your work actually makes me a little uneasy. It seems far too intimate for public viewing, and I don’t know why. Talk about your influences. “I’m intrigued to find that my work seems intimate to you, since I sometimes suspect that I’m too much of a chicken to really put it all out there. I’m a private person. I feel somewhat protected by the non-literal nature of my artwork, but perhaps it’s more self-disclosing than I realize. Or maybe it appears to be self-disclosing to a viewer because it reflects back their own issues or expectations. I do find that when I meet new people who have known my work first they often seem surprised that I am, er, ‘normal.’ I don’t know any ‘normal’ artists Stephanie. Even the folks doing representational pastel beach scenes on the Boardwalk have a weird streak.
“It is a strange disconnect to make things and know what they mean to me, and then find out that others have completely different takes on them. But I know each of us carries around a lifetime of personal baggage, and that affects the way we interpret art and life. My teddy bear skulls, for example, tend to separate viewers into two distinct camps: those who see them as specimens of surreal nature, and those who see them as evidence of murdered childhood icons. I’m in the former camp.”
What style of art do you find unbearable to own? “I dislike artwork that mines the cultural iconography of another time or culture in a frivolous way… like plunking a Kokopelli figure on a mailbox, for example. There has to be a reason, a connection.”
You know we have to talk about food. What is your favorite? “Hmm. I’m not sure if ‘butter’ is considered to be a food or just a component of food. I was allergic to dairy as a child, so I tell myself I’m making up for lost time. Perhaps a more socially acceptable answer would be one of many cheeses, probably between Cotswold and fancy sharp Cheddar. I lean towards an Italian palate of breads, cheeses, tomatoes, and the like.” Butter. I miss butter as it has been relegated to a rare indulgence, despite to my French culinary leanings.
What about snack foods? “I really like rice cakes with cream cheese heavily applied, but some Oreos wil l do as well as long as it’s after real food. I have a thing about not eating dessert food (chocolate-based) before ‘real food’. Not sure why.” Rice Cakes, Stephanie? Really? You lead me on with butter only to slap me down with rice cakes? I love them too, but it’s a long fall from butter.
So, what’s coming up next for you? “I’m considering this a ‘making year’- head down, working on my large scale body of work (and smaller studies as I work out the mechanics of making the large pieces). I’m looking into renting a larger studio space at the end of the year, since my work is lately taking over more of the house.”
What style or school of art do you think your work fits into and why? “I think my work is perhaps related to post minimalism, but the ‘official’ style that best seems to fit is “Eccentric Abstraction,” a term coined by curator Lucy Lippard in 1966, which refers to the use of organic abstract form in sculpture evoking the gendered body through an emphasis on process. I don’t know when there will be a term for a style or school that emphasizes hand work within the world of modern technology (and without the negative associations of ‘craft’), but I think I would fit there.” Holy cannoli, someone finally ANSWERED this question without saying, ‘I don’t think in terms of labels’ or “My work doesn’t really fit into any particular style.” Thank you. You might be the first one EVER.
Thanks, Stephanie, for making me uneasy with your felted creatures.
We all need to be forced out of our comfort zone…