A Brief Q&A with Stephanie Hargrave, Anna Macrae, Susan Mask, and Becky Street

Shift’s Second Saturday Events have given our exhibiting artists an opportunity to connect with an audience through artist talks, panels and demonstrations. In our current social distancing times, we decided to offer an alternative with a brief Q and A with our monthly featured artists

Stephanie, Your work often contains a mysterious and/or unsettling biological component.  Can you elaborate on this creative interest?

A:  My work is essentially about biology.  I layer images relating to cellular growth, organs, insects, bones and bontany in encaustic, clay and on paper.  I’m especially fascinated by cytology, which focuses on the microscopic examination of tissue for diagnoses of abnormalities and malignances. As well, I’m drawn to morphology, which deals with the form and structure of organisms.  I often make work that can feel like a disease or sickness—measles, chickenpox or a rash—and relates to anything that grows, whether it be animal or plant. 

 Your current quarantine in Brooklyn gives you a unique perspective on the covid crisis.  How has this situation influenced your work?

A:  When I arrived in New York in February I got sick, recovered and helped run an artist residency that ended early due to the crisis. Sequestered in my Brooklyn apartment without my usual materials or access to a studio for working in clay, I turned to working on paper and developed my Entelechia Series, with Gov. Cuomo’s reassuring daily press conferences, lots of ice cream and incredible, neighborhood  Italian food delivered to my door to help me cope

Anna, This new work, as in your last show Garden for Daisey, references gardens and gardening and is filled with physicality. Can you draw some parallels between your painting process and gardening?

 I make work for the joy of it: messy imperfections and happenstance are welcome visitors.  For me, springtime means gardening.  I embrace the physical nature of playing in the mud and the surprises inherent in Nature’s new growth. I approach both gardening and art with the same enthusiasm—each energizes me with creativity, physicality and the delight of some surprise results. This nature-based new work contains references to imagined landscape and self-reliance.

  Do you work with any unique tools, processes or rituals?

  My process is non-precious.  I generally mess up the surface of a painting when I start and then build up layers with collage and paint, editing out as I go but holding onto some areas of magic.  I tend not to use “nice” materials as I find they inhibit my ability to play freely

Susan, You have introduced us to the community of Oberlin Village, N.C., in your last Shift show. Does that historical reference relate to this current body of work?

This 2020 exhibit, Back Then, is an extension of the Oberlin series. I discovered this post-Civil War village founded by formerly enslaved people—some of whom were my ancestors–quite by accident. Preservation North Carolina had acquired my great grandparents’ home in Oberlin Village, and wanted to turn it into its Raleigh headquarters. Through a combination of my own genealogical research and PNC’s curiosity I learned a great deal about the Oberlin community, which existed up to around the 1950s but was pulled apart by the 1930s depression combined with the Great Migration.  In its heyday, Oberlin thrived in the face of both overt and subtle discrimination and its residents distinguished themselves in professions such as law, medicine, journalism, education and more.  My artwork is based on early 20th-century photographs of the village and its inhabitants.

 What are you working on now?

The thing about art is that it has to speak to you, grab you and not let you turn away. Such is the critical conversation going on today as result of the horrific killing of George Floyd in broad daylight by the Minneapolis Police while cameras rolled.  It’s furthered a fierce and worldwide Black Lives Matter movement that I suspect might be my focus in a future show. 

Becky, Has Covid and the recent Stay at Home order changed your art practice in any way?

  Yes.  During the quarantine I’ve not had regular access to a printing press so I’ve been exploring collage and painting with acrylic gouache.  I’ve also been taking several online art classes.  They’ve given me new ideas on how to stir up my normal ways of making art and they’ve also exposed me to new subjects and new processes that I can incorporate into my printmaking.

  The images in Horse Sense are a departure from the vessels in your last Shift show, Just Enough. They also seem to stretch across the page. Is this new work edging toward landscape?

 I hadn’t thought of it that way but the general shape of a horse is horizontal.  The proportions are very familiar to me. I always imagine the horses in the landscape of a pasture or a corral, so visually the composition begins in a horizontal or landscape format.  I purposefully created some vertical pieces counteract this. The main difference between the two shows is that the vessels in Just Enough were form observation while the horses in Horse Sense are memory-based.