Stepping into a still life experience: Interview with artist Erika Stearly

Originally featured in Issue 16 of Create! Magazine

About Erika  

A lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, Erika Stearly makes paintings of the spaces where people live. Her paintings, which are both fictional and biographical, have recently been included in invitational exhibitions in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Dallas, TX and were featured in a solo exhibition at the Boxheart Gallery in Pittsburgh in early 2019. 

Ms. Stearly has received numerous awards in support of her work, including artist grants from the Puffin Foundation, the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her MFA in 2014.  She was the 2015 Emerging Artist in Residence at Penn State University, where she taught painting, and a 2018 Visiting Faculty Fellow at Kutztown University.     

Editor Ekaterina chats with Erika about her story and how she came about painting interiors.  

Kat: Were you always interested in art? What was your early work like?  

Erika: I have been painting and drawing for as long as I remember. When I went to Kutztown University and was painting, it felt like we were always painting still lifes. At the time, I was really interested in painting objects when I was learning about the elements of art and how to render a work of art.  

There was a period of time when I started depicting rooms. I still thought of it as a still life arrangement, but one we could walk around in. Its a still life you get to experience. There is a distinction between where the objects are and the viewer is.  

Do you remember the first room you decided to paint?  

I participated in a summer intensive at Tyler School of Art. I painted a room that I have been in, but I was trying to paint it from memory. I had used a bunch of collage items to approximate what I wanted in this room. Its a pretty awful painting, but its pretty meaningful to me and I still keep it around.  

I need to collect a lot of materials to come up with the paintings I wanted to create. At the time, I was collecting Ikea catalogs and other sources which resulted in the paintings feeling very plastic and pristine. They didnt look like the houses my friends and I were living in.  

After that, I started making paintings of actual spaces. I posted on Facebook that I was working on a project and asked people if I could come and take pictures of their house. And people would invite me over and I would paint their homes. I started naming the works after street address. And Ive been doing this for the past ten years.  

Recently, Ive been looking on Craigslist to see ads of homes and images of lives in spaces for inspiration.  

How do you keep things fresh in the studio? 

Its very malleable on my end. I dont think art should be scary or confusing to people.  

When I paint spaces, even if they get gestural or fluid and suggestive, but people can still recognize objects. Once they get a clue, whether it be a chair or a window, they are able to figure out whatever else is going on. They are able to make sense of the images and come up with their own story.  

I can get people to be interested and engage with my paintings even on that level, even if Im thinking about something else entirely.  

Do you think about something specific when creating the spaces? 

I donthink of anything very profound, the process is very meditative for me. I listen to a lot of podcasts or storytelling. 

How do you stay inspired and are able to stay so prolific? 
 
I built a traveling studio kit, actually several different versions of it. I will paint in libraries, or any place that you can have your own table.  

Also, I color and paint at the bar. I have a small palette, paintbrush and a handful or markers that I keep with me.  

When I was in graduate school, I had a lot of studio time but it would sometimes be long periods of time before I see another human being, so this was a great way to socialize. People are very kind and curious, and sometime I will invite them to come color with me.  

Whats in your studio kit? 

Bathroom disposable water cups, Palette, Markers, Paint  

What are you excited about at the moment? 

The initial idea for me was that I was going to go to grad school, be a professor and teach, but over the past few years I have learned that Im meant to be on a different path.  

When I decided that Im definitely not going back to academia, I made a goal for myself that I was going to sell a certain amount of work and I have already hit that goal. Im so proud of myself! 

Isuper proud and excited for you too! Its the best feeling in the world to take control of your art career. 

Follow along Erikas journey on her instagram at @erika_stearly 

Learn more at www.erikastearly.com 

Select paintings are available for purchase at www.pxpcontemporary.com 

Other articles:

PxP Contemporary featured on Art Zealous

Alicia was recently interviewed by Art Zealous to discuss tips for new art collectors.

"Between her role as the co-host of The Create! Podcast and running PxP Contemporary, an online platform for connecting artists & collectors, Alicia Puig certainly has her hands full. 

An early adopter of the work-from-home lifestyle, Alicia relocated from Philadelphia to Costa Rica more than 2 years ago – giving her a significant head start on everyone who only recently discovered the joys of remote employment. As this cultural shift has more people than ever spending more time than ever before at home and investing more in affordable art, Puig’s talent of connecting emerging artists with collectors has never been more relevant or in demand."

Read the full feature on the blog's website!

https://artzealous.com/alicia-puig-of-pxp-contemporary-demystifies-art-collecting/

Body positive artwork by Queens-based painter Elisa Valenti

Artist Elisa Valenti describes having grown up “in a time before being plus size was normal” and how that had a profound effect on her. So many women can relate to the idea of never having seen someone who looks like them in pop culture or mainstream media and the feelings of self-doubt or otherness that are often associated with it. So she paints what she wishes she had seen back then, depicting women in ordinary scenes of life. She is a skilled painter with a demonstrated ability to balance the skin-toned hues of her figures with either lush and vibrant or more neutral colors in the background. Yet, you’ll find the most beauty from her work in the realness of each body and of each woman, and in turn you may be inspired to look for (and perhaps discover) that same unassuming confidence reflected in yourself. 

Elisa Valenti Art

Body Positive Art 

Painting works that she has such a strong emotional connection to hasn’t come without its challenges. “It took many years for me to muster the courage to put my work down...I have battled with the limiting fear of perfection. I have left many paintings unfinished because I didn’t feel they were worthy or I feared ruining them” she admits. But she has persisted and has an ambitious body of work to show for it. What was at first a feverish desire to complete paintings quickly in order to see them fully realized has since been slowed down to a more methodical process of working a little and then stepping back to contemplate. Elisa often works on two paintings at once to allow this to happen more fluidly. When she is taking a break with one work, she can go back to a second one with fresh eyes. This adjustment allows her to be present in her creative practice, enjoy each painting as it develops, and push past blocks to creative breakthroughs.

How does she define beauty considering that it plays such an integral role in her paintings? “Beauty is the personification of humble confidence and selfless courage.” This is what she has spent years working through and exactly the vibe that she has cultivated in her recent series of paintings.

Elisa Valenti Artist Statement

I grew up in a time when eating in public was shameful, stomach rolls made you unworthy, and shopping for clothes was traumatic. I grew up before being plus size was normal.

My work reflects the images I wish I had seen—beautiful, luscious women doing ordinary things, just like everybody else. They are a reflection of my own battle with body image and my journey to mental health.

If you’ve ever been made to feel insignificant, I hope they inspire you to own your image of yourself and never give that power to someone else.

Elisa Valenti Art Body Positive Artwork

Her Story

Elisa Rosa Valenti, whose brand is Elisa Valenti Studio, is an unapologetically body-positive and contemporary figurative artist living and working in Queens, New York.

Her work evokes a very personal interpretation of beauty, strength, and vulnerability. Through a combination of drawing or painting from models and staged photographs, her full-figured women come to life on the canvas. The varying flesh tones used in her signature variation on cubism make each figure seem as if it could be any woman and indeed many of her viewers see themselves in her work.

Elisa is a self-taught painter. She studied fine arts and art history at the High School of Art & Design and holds her Doctorate of Pharmacy from St. John's University. She has been featured by Create! Magazine, Canvas and Crumpets, and OprahComplex and she previously exhibited with Superfine Fair in New York. 

Click to shop our collection of available art by Elisa Valenti

Mansa Musa With Cleopatra & The Black Effect

We're pleased to share this powerful personal essay by artist Kestin Cornwall that gives more insight into his work overall and specifically, to his painting "Mansa Musa With Cleopatra." 

I create art to document change and to ask questions. I try to approach my work as a visual thinker and aim to think critically. Media has often distorted representations of Black and Brown males; how we speak, love, and live. The North American media industry is the largest in the world, and therefore has a huge effect on how the world views minorities, specifically Black and Brown males. This large consumption of media affects the public’s attitudes towards Black and Brown men. These preconceived notions and perceptions of us have directly affected the treatment of Black and Brown men within the justice system. It also affects self-realization and individual development, punitive laws, and police practices that in the end affect and change our communities and how we all interact within them.

While creating the image titled "Mansa Musa With Cleopatra", I wanted to take into account how some will see love and affection in this image, while others will see aggression, consciously or subconsciously, admittingly or not. I wanted to ask questions about love, biases, perceived ideas and views and how the media and history are often written from a eurocentric perspective. This one-sided perspective views Black and Brown, as well as men from other groups, differently and in many ways unjustly, while simultaneously claiming to push equality. It's also selective with who is included in documented mainstream history and who is left out. All this while also underrepresenting specifically Black men but Black people in general as well as other minority groups. Why do we all know who Isaac Newton is but many don't know of Musa al-Khwarizmi or Brahmagupta?

Thinking back to this, I remember growing up, and how my family would be fearful of how the world would see me when I left the house. They would run down a list of things to do and not do in case of an unwarranted interaction with a police officer, fearing that I would be viewed as a threat. My mother grew up in the '60s in Detroit. She has brothers, she's seen the news, she has had racism affect her life in North America, and she knew to warn me based on her past experiences. I remember spending time with my white friends who did not have this fear. White families instructed their kids to demand a badge number by police and had no fear of how police would incorrectly identify and interact with their sons. They felt protected by the police.

The lack of balanced representation and the pre-decided view of Black men and other groups has led to many issues. Tamir Rice was a 12-year old African-American boy. Tamir was shot in Cleveland by Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old white police officer. Loehmann shot the 12-year-old boy on site. This is just one example of bad policing with clear biases, and an officer behaving over aggressively, ending in a loss of a very valuable life.

My grandfather paid taxes, was respected, and worked legally in North America. My dad worked his whole life and paid taxes in Canada, sometimes three jobs just to feed us. My other grandfather is the descendent of southern slaves, who built North America, and were abused and neglected by the country they so dearly loved. Even after the government promised in 1865 that those freed would be paid land and provided the ability to work that land, the same tools white Americans had been given for 100’s of years, this was never actually given to Black Americans. If we use the game Monopoly as an example, white America has been playing for days. Black people were forced to stand the whole time at gunpoint in the doorway to this room and just moments ago had the opportunity to sit down and play at the table.

A close friend, who is white, asked me years ago, when we were 24 or so, what I saw for my future by 30. I remember his face when I told him I was expecting to be dead by now. I just want to make it out. Out to me at the time was a better life than what we had there, and opportunity. At the time I was watching what family members in Detroit were experiencing. I was seeing men like me being mistreated. I had been in altercations and been called racial slurs. I was seeing how Canada treated Indigenous people and Black people. My teachers had shown us the video of the Rodney King beating and I’d seen the misrepresentation and disparity in arrest shown on camera on shows like “Cops”. I was targeted by the police as a teenager at a party in high school. I’ve always kept my grades up, I’ve always been respectful, I’ve never wanted to fight unless it was self-defense. But now, having time to analyze some aspects of the past, I realize these interactions and survival mindsets have had an effect not just on me, but on our culture, on our society, on our communities, and on our countries.

I think society is desensitized to Black and Brown pain and death, due to the media bias, including shows like “Cops”. I want to humanize our women and our men while uniquely representing them. There are many types of Blackness. As Black men we love, as Black men we protect our women, we kiss babies, we enjoy the greenery of a garden, we care, we create. As far as numbers, studies show that as Black men, we are more likely to play with our children at home and do homework with our children in our homes. We are powerful, we are strong, some of us are built like Michael B. Jordan and LeBron James. We’re also calm, cerebral, and kind-hearted like John Lewis and Barack Obama. The Black Effect.

-Kestin Cornwall 

The Complete Smartist Guide

The Complete Smartist Guide is now available!

Learn more about the book here.

 

Dessert art by LA based resin sculptor Betsy Enzensberger

Our mission is to have collectors come to know us for our selection of affordable contemporary art! We work hard to curate pieces that are both high-quality and unique. To that end, today we're highlighting one of our favorite artists who creates fun dessert art sculptures that are sure to make a statement in any collection - Betsy Enzsensberger

dessert art Betsy Enzensberger

Dessert Art

Whether you are new to buying contemporary art or a seasoned collector, we know you'll love Betsy's work. Her life-sized sculptures of frozen, melting treats are a conversation piece that, unlike the real thing, lasts forever. You can even contact us if you'd like Betsy to create something custom for you. Treat yourself! 

Dessert Sculptures

Since these pieces are generally around five inches, they are easy to display on a desk, mantle, or shelf. Place it atop a few colorful coffee table books for a chic, modern look. Each dessert art sculpture is unique, signed by the artist, and comes in a special box.

Betsy Enzensberger Art

Enzensberger sculpts works that create a visceral longing and remembrance of the most nostalgic delights from childhood. The artist uses the familiarity of those sweet treats to help us remember the simplicity, value, and culture of desserts so often associated with positivity and joy. She was born and raised in New York and is now a Los Angeles-based artist. 

Enzensberger has become quite well known for her realistic, larger-than-life sculptures of dripping, frozen treats such as popsicle sculptures. The material resin looks like candy in that it appears delicious and sweet. The shiny exterior has a wet, melting quality. Her Tragically Sweet series plays with the desires of everyone’s inner child. The lure of sweet, sticky popsicles artificially instills intense longing. The colorful confections practically beg to be rescued and consumed.

“Resin - I love it. It’s beautiful, sexy, mysterious. It’s also toxic, messy, and annoyingly exhausting to create. However, I enjoy the challenges that resin presents. There’s just something about it I can’t resist. If the process was easy, I wouldn’t be doing it.” – Betsy Enzensberger

Shop her collection here!

About PxP Contemporary

PxP Contemporary is an online platform that connects collectors with high-quality, affordable artworks. We believe in transparent pricing, building meaningful relationships with our clients, providing exceptional customer service and above all, supporting the talented artists who we work with and represent. CEO & co-founder Alicia Puig and co-founder Ekaterina Popova, with a combined 15+ years of experience working in the arts, launched PxP to challenge the traditional gallery model and make the process of buying art a more accessible, digital-friendly experience. Art lovers, whether looking to add to an already established collection or acquiring their very first piece, can browse our curated selection of art with fixed prices up to $2,500 by contemporary artists from around the globe. 

A Conversation About Art & Current Events with Kestin Cornwall: Art & Cocktails

In this episode, Alicia returns as a guest host to interview Toronto-based figurative painter Kestin Cornwall.

Over the past ten years, Cornwall has focused on creating relevant progressive art. He has used a varied practice of combining hand drawings, digitally removing the human hand and then forcing the element of the human hand back into the work. Using elements such as painting, wheat-pasting, screen-printing, installation and drawing to explore the relationship between art, human rights, politics, sex, and freedom, Cornwall critically charts current political, social, and economic landscapes with compositions brimming with references to media, popular culture, music, and art history.

https://www.kestincornwall.com/
http://www.blackocadu.ca

We discuss:

Steps that the art world should take in order to be more inclusive & diverse
The importance of developing your creative voice as an artist
Tips for developing your style & more advice for emerging artists

www.createmagazine.com/podcast