jackie stephens

Jaclyn Stephens is a printmaking-based multidisciplinary artist. Both her studio and home temporarily inhabit on a farm in Middletown, Ohio.  Since her BFA studies in Over-The-Rhine, and MFA studies in Oxford, Ohio, her rural childhood makes a timely reconnection, physically and creatively, to her present.  Not to be distinguished exclusive from the rest of her life, Jaclyn's work generates associative play between environments, materials, meanings, work, sensory perceptions, and communicative processes. Cultivating multiple relationships with the landscape is neither only a way of living nor only a way of making, but rather the connection between everything she is constantly doing.

Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?

Jackie Stephens: I few months.

F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?

JS: Kind of both. The storage was here as it was, and as we painted and renovated the space we kind of moved things around and figured it out.  I knew that I wanted to mostly work here at the window. I wanted this window to have a studio role --whether it was the view or the light, I'm not sure -- but whenever I work with translucent materials I like to hold them up and utilize the light. I knew that wall was going to be my working / hanging wall. So those two points were kind of my starters. I was flexible on everything else. I have the print racks up because I have had a few open studios where I’ve invited the public down here hoping to just sell some stuff and get it cleared out.

F-D: How has that been going?

JS: It’s been pretty good. I live out in the middle of no where, and so that is going to be an interesting challenge. My spouse and I have always dreamt of starting a residency program; and this was sort of a research move for us. We’re just getting a feel for geographical market and we’re just trying to ‘gain vision’ as it were.  I could just get a studio in downtown Middletown, or even a studio in downtown Cincinnati where I’d have more traffic, but I’d prefer to just figure it out and make it work out here. I hope that I can figure out a way to get people to just come to me. But it’s been a huge challenge. I want it to be organic, probably to a downfall, but I have to do a bunch of marketing and event creation before that can happen.

F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?

JS: Yes it has. But I can’t really answer that question without referencing grad school, seeing as how that is where my last studio was. Post MFA, I became really scared that I was going to graduate and then hate it. Like, hate art.

F-D: Were you in that head space when you were in school, did you think you would never make work again?

JS: Yea! Grad school is really hard! I mean. . .  of course I miss it now. But it has been a great experience being removed. I feel like I’m only filling with confidence and proving to myself that I have the desire to make something and no one is telling me to. It’s actually a bit overwhelming at times, I don't always think I can get the ideas out fast enough. But as far as geographical location: I love it out here so much, that I don’t care about being close to other people. I just want to make it work. I'll figure it out.

F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?

JS: I have a graphic design job that is  three days a week. So I don’t really get in here to work on those days unless I have something pressing that needs to be done in the moment. I prefer to work during the day because I like the natural light. . . and I’m creeped out by mice. I’m in a barn so I can hear them if I come in in the evening or late at night. I make coffee at home and walk up here. I love the hike, It’s like a two minute walk. I usually work on 3 or 4 different things at the same time. I stay up here for a few hours. Walk home for lunch, walk back after. I usually leave for the day around 5:30ish.

F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?

JS: I’m interested in the physical relationship that I have with the physical environment. Literally what it feels like to be a human. What it’s like to be in a space with senses and how we perceive our reality.

F-D: What mediums do you work with?

JS: Mostly printmaking processes: etching, monotype, relief printing, some lithographs, multimedia drawings, textiles and fabrics, handmade paper, projections. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes sound installation.

F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved?

JS: I feel like I need to explain where I, mentally, was during grad school. So after [working on prints for so long] I felt like I needed to collage and physically layer. So I began making these weird things out of canvas, paper, and vellum.  I was drawing on the vellum, but then even that became too opaque and I needed something that was really translucent but could also handle ink-- and it seems really obvious now-- but I then began using silk. That really expanded my territory with my prints. It was such a ‘ah ha!’ moment of material interaction and exploiting the physicality of the process through layering. I still have all of these silk matrices from where I just inked them up and ran them through the press. But after I did that, it led me to realize that I needed to be making my own paper. But then it was too ‘paper-y’ and too flat, it wasn’t bodily enough. So I began using carton paper. And then I was content. I was making my own paper and printing on it with silk, and I made a ton of work during that time. Then I started to begin questioning the square format and I began wanting to get out of that because with the silk I could sculpt my form. So after my thesis I was left with the silk as objects, but I was unsure of how to utilize them. So now I am working on using the material with some drawings, and sewing to create lines. I just love when I end up having pieces with so many different places of origin. I mean, I cannot believe that I ever felt underproductive. I now have so many old prints that I can use within other prints-- they can be cut down, and glued, sculpted, stitched, folded. . . whatever.

F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?

JS: See, I’m sensitive to answer that question.

F-D: I know, everyone is, that’s why we ask it-- it’s a bit of a poke and prod and it means different things to different artists. But you can just say no; that's just as good of an answer.

JS: I mean, interaction. As vague and basic as that is. A lot of my pieces feel like they go together. There seems to be a dialogue-- they feel like friends or family. The way that I would make that accessible visually is by repeating the same print or using the same etching plate in different prints. I tend to use ‘metaphor’ in place of ‘narrative’ when I’m discussing my work.

F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your work?

JS: I think so. It's a little bit autobiographical and its absolutely referential to personal history. There is a parallel to the way I communicate or relate with a physical space-- whether that be interior or landscape. 

F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?

JS: Reading, especially poetry. And work, like physical work: like chopping wood and gardening-- general outdoor labor. It has a direct influence in my soundscapes, but becomes more metaphorical in my printmaking.

F-D: Who are you reading?

JS: Right now I’m reading The Hours by Virginia Woolf. The poets that I always return to if I just want to read something quick to read but don’t really have the time to devote to a new book are Mary Oliver and Wendall Berry. Their poems talk about the natural environment and landscape in a very kindred way to how I experience it. But then again I’m also really into slam poetry like Anis Mojgani and Andrea Gibson. I think how the written word; be it poetry, fiction, and others influence me through just. . . keeping my gears going. I just enjoy reading the creative work of other people. I just enjoy the way other people use words.

F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you? Also, specifically for you having just completed 8 continual years of education and consistently having that type of studio environment, how do you feel, now,  having your own space?

JS: Well, I wore myself to exhaustion with academia. Clearly. Because art school kicks your ass; the post thesis show hangover after both undergrad and graduate school is a very real thing. It feels so nice to have a studio space that isn’t being criticized. Don't get me wrong, I’m not saying it was a bad thing, healthy criticism is supposed to happen in school. But it’s so nice to not have this space being criticized or predicated around other peoples' experience of it. If I want to take a nap, I can just take a nap. So it feels really productive and safe. It’s like having another bedroom.

F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

JS: I’m currently working on a collaboration with a Chattanooga [Tennessee] based artist named Mark Albain. He is creating some zines that include his photography and I am going to insert drawings that I am working on from another project. For the first Open Studio we created a collaborative installation that was projected onto the side of the barn. The projection also came through the window onto the wall over there and so he put up some slide images that he was working on and I put up some drawings all on top of the digital projected films. That experience got thinking of this space as a place for collaboration and showing work that is shared versus thinking of it as just a gallery or just a studio.

I’m also working on the Nomadic Drawings, which I will probably change the name of someday. With that project, I am taking them everywhere with me: I fold them up, put them in a bag, and then work on them whenever I have a moment: the grocery store, the tire place, on lunch break. . . So these drawings evolve off of their physicality. The main influence was this drawing, that grew from this blue section here: which was done at a demo at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and when we were cleaning up I realized I almost left it, and so I grabbed it, folded it up, and it lived in my bag for a while. Later I am baby sitting and the kids wanna draw. I open up my bag and all I have are some pencils, some highlighters, and this paper for me to draw on. We’re drawing (I’m drawing on this paper), and I kind of realized what it could be: my little nomadic drawing-- like a sketch book but not. It then starts to rip and tear, and I kept working on it, I worked on it on an airplane, and other places. So the vision for the project turned into me letting them live through whatever, and then mail them. Just to clarify, I'm not mailing them for the sake of mailing them. They are intended to be pointless accompaniments to mail errands., I sent one with a bill that I had to pay. I pay very few bills via mail, but I had this one. So whoever receives it gets the drawing, a statement explaining what they are receiving and the explanation of the project, and an empty envelope addressed back to me. If they don't want to keep it, they have the option of sending it back to me. And I haven’t received any of them back. I started that project on my way out of grad school. I was thinking about how people interact with images physically versus how we interact with images digitally. At the end of the project I intend to exhibit the  ones I received back as well as the documentations of the ones that I didn't receive back. In addition to this I have some longer mixed media installations that I am working on.

* Nomadic Drawings images courtesy of the artist.

F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?

JS: I think it’s mostly relatable to soundscape installation, or anyone who is working with sound composition. When I was working through my thesis ideas all of the conceptual meat of my ideas was correlating closest to sound artists and how they think about physical space because of physical spaces' effects on sound. As far as other artists that I’m in conversation with, I would say Mark Albain, in regards to that I’d say the overlap lies in site specific instances and place / sight interaction. Ian Kiaer, is one, I think his ideas on installation and curation are really interesting. There is also this thing that’s happening a lot recently with artists using shelves to prop their work up. And I’m really digging that: I think it’s a really playful way to exhibit and show work. It’s a way to show things and hide and reveal and have things peaking out. It’s just a fun area to defy and expand.

F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

JS: No, I really don’t have anything.

F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?

JS: I say that I am an artist. They normally still ask what I do. And then I tell them I make stuff.

F-D: I like your intentional vagueness.

F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?

JS: Some people might snicker at this answer, but grad school was a big risk. Emotionally, financially, and it’s about that commitment. I don’t know if it felt like a risk then, but as an artist, anytime someone puts themselves in a place where they don’t know the outcome is a risk. I love that. I love the idea of a residency and having a vague idea of what I want to do and then just going with it. Also, not getting any old 9-5 job is a huge risk. I don’t really see new material selection as a risk.

F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?

JS: No, I can’t think of anything. Nope.

F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?

JS: I’m in a group exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum. I do have some small prints at Society here in Middletown. I will also be doing some future projects with Paper & Petal in Cincinnati. I’m also working with Cincinnati Arts Association as a contracted artist for their ongoing project: The Arts and Healing Initiative. I’m going to be doing little art making pop up tables in ICU waiting rooms. I haven’t started yet, but from my understanding we are there to help facilitate healing for those who are in the waiting room. That is probably the project I'm most excited about right now.