Five-Dots is a Cincinnati-based online publication that hopes to open a conversation between artists/craftsman and the public about their work, process, ideas, concerns about their community and workspace.
Made in Cincinnati vendor and fine artist Megan Bickel helms this project with partner and photographer Cassandra Zetta. They release a new interview with a local creative, artist or maker regularly on their site including — this interview with artist 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.
Five-Dots interviews are co-published by Made in Cincinnati in an effort to expand awareness of local artists and their craft. Interviews by Megan Bickel. Photos by Cassandra Zetta.