Monday, June 10, 2013

Stephen Sheffield

The Kiernan Gallery is pleased to have photographer Stephen Sheffield as juror for our upcoming exhibition Alter Ego.

Though you often use yourself as a model, your portraits tend to be anonymous, making yourself into a character of sorts. Why is it important that you are the subject matter instead of a stand-in? What are you communicating about yourself through your images?

I use myself as a model as a way to experience and/or feel the situation (or, as I see it, the performance) that I have set up. The imagery comes from me and is often either a re-creation of my dreams and nightmares, or a reaction a response to something I have read or seen.

Your work has a surreal and sometimes theatrical element to it. How much pre-planning is involved in one of your self-portraits?

I am very much influenced by surrealism, and I agree that the work often feels theatrical.  I often refer to my works as performances.  For pre-planning, Location is unquestionably one of the most important parts of the process. I try to keep the locations simple but loaded with potential meanings to myself and/or the audience, thereby giving them significance. I also have an ever-growing array of "props" which I use for symbolic effect.  Nonetheless, I usually only use what I can bring with me on my bicycle or in my car, and often use props found on location that make sense or inspire me. 



You make work in a variety of photographic media (silver gelatin, polaroid, alternative processes, color film, artist books, etc.). How do you determine which media will work best for a given piece or project?

Some processes I treat as completely separate entities. With artist books, for instance, I search for an image to work into the piece rather than creating one specifically for the book I am making.  That means I am open to all imagery, new or old, including my own work of course. It’s really whatever I respond to. 

For other media, the first step is the straight image.  I then print the image at different sizes and shapes, pin them up in my studio, and then sit back on a stool, looking and drinking tea. This step may take a few days.  If a direction for the work does not come to me in a few days, I try everything I know—and often a few things I have never done before—to find a spark in the work.  This process means that many pieces end up in the trash or in storage. But like a roll of 35mm film, you are winning if you get even one that hits the mark.


As an artist, how do you feel that your own aesthetic will influence your approach to jurying this exhibition?

I admire and am influenced my so many forms of art that I will approach this with an open mind.  When I teach, I show as much painting, performance, and installation art as I do photography. I have had students complete final portfolio reviews with mixed media projects rather than straight photography. In such cases, the work can be wonderful, and the viewer will have to dig for the photography.

My main objective when jurying this show will be to build the strongest exhibition possible, one that holds together as a whole and is not simply a group show of the greatest hits of what was submitted.  I would like to explore and comment on what self-portraiture is and what it can be.  This may possibly irk some folks, but I am hoping every viewer will come along with me on the ride.


Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?

Success as an artist to me means many things.  It is easy to become addicted to the strokes one gets at a successful show and when your work sells.  I admit it is a rush.  Now as a "mid-career" artist (it hurts me every time I say that now) I am more concerned with longevity, legacy and continued growth and depth of my art.  Of course I need to support my family with my art (teaching is a smaller, but very important, part of my art life), but I am also driven to keep searching and creating.  Success to me would be a healthy balance of family, creative satisfaction, and the rewards of having my work collected.


The deadline to submit work for Alter Ego is June 20.
www.kiernangallery.com

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