TCD's Kat Murrell talks with Stephanie about her artistic background, inspirations and new project, "The Carriers."
Artist Stephanie Barenz takes up her position as the new artist-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel this week, succeeding out-going artist Timothy Westbrook. TCD will check in with her throughout the year to catch up on the art and stories emerging as her project, The Carriers, develops. But first, Kat Murrell talked with Stephanie to hear about her artistic background, recent projects, and the inspirations she’ll bring to her work at the Pfister.
Kat Murrell: How and when did you realize you wanted to become an artist?
Stephanie Barenz: It was something my parents recognized in me when I was young. I was a really shy kid and I had always expressed myself [in art]. So they really encouraged me to pursue it. But I didn’t really become serious about it until college. I thought maybe I’d become an art therapist or an art educator, which I ended up going to to school for, because you never think it’s practical to paint full time – you hear so few stories of people actually being able to make it.
When I got to my junior year of college I studied abroad in Florence and met some really great mentors. They encouraged me to get my MFA. When I came back I started applying to graduate school and ended up going to a residency in Chicago, a printmakers’ collaborative, and I was there for a year and then got into grad school at Washington University. While I was there it really became clear to me that, although I love to teach, I kept being pulled back into the studio – constantly. I feel like every art educator feels that way.
That’s pretty much the journey. I’ve had ups and downs. Last year I was in China teaching English abroad because I wanted the chance to travel and because it was really hard to make ends meet. I’ve taken odd jobs here and there but this year, since I’ve gotten married, it’s been easier to be in the studio full time.
KM: Is there a body of work or new projects you have planned for the Pfister?
SB: I just finished a body of work called Middle Kingdoms and I had a show at the end of November in Mequon at River Edge Gallery.
That series was based on my travels last year, particularly focusing on the idea of homesickness and how when you’re in a new culture or a new place, everything about your home becomes magnified. Your friends are kings and queens, the food from home is like the best food you can ever remember, and then you come back to your home or your familiar place,there’s this longing for what was, and things are altered.
The Carriers, which is the title of my next series, is borne out of that. It’s this idea of taking memory, or gathering objects or things that have been part of our travels, and literally putting them on the back of what we’ve used to travel.
Part of my proposal [for the Pfister Artist-in-Residence project] is to talk with the guests about their travels and their stories, their connection to Milwaukee or other places, and then work with them to make a piece.
KM: What do you find about Milwaukee that is especially intriguing or connects you to it?
SB: I’ve lived mostly in the Midwest but have traveled all over, and there’s something about Milwaukee and its friendliness. I think anyone who visits here usually says that. It’s big, but at the same time in the art community you know everyone. I came here from grad school in St. Louis and within six months I knew everyone and people were so welcoming. I just have a huge heart for it.
A welcome reception for Stephanie Barenz will be held at the Pfister Hotel in conjunction with Gallery Night, April 19. Watch TCD throughout the year for more updates on Barenz’s tenure as the Pfister’s artist-in-residence.