C.J. Stahl: From a Basement on a Hill

Anagnorisis is excited to be exhibiting C.J. Stahl’s latest body of work, From a Basement on a Hill, tomorrow! He’s generated interesting ‘case studies’, as he likes to call them, which dissest memory into physical, mental and emotional experiences. Stahl references and questions contemporary psychological theory to create insightful dialoge about this research. Often our minds pick and choose what we want and how we want to remember – a blur between the real and quasi-fantasy. It only makes sense that he blends and toggles between refined photographic imagery and painted gestures that marry into beautiful technical abstractions.
DE – So what’s your story?  and do you remember your first creative inclination?
CS – Well. I’m originally from central Texas, a small town named Taylor. It’s one of those places that people would describe as being a nice place to raise a family.
I don’t know if I can recall my first creative inclination. My Mom used to draw when I was young. There are still drawings of hers at my parents home, mostly of dark biker art, skeletons and things like that. She’d told me she drawn them for my Dad, who had always had a motorcycle and loved deathly looking pencil and ink drawings at that time.
My family responds really well to my work and have always been incredibly supportive. Sometimes my parents “get it”, about a particular work, and sometimes they don’t, but they are always great cheerleaders. My brother draws and paints as well, and we always have allot of really great dialogue about what either of us is working on at the moment.
As far as going to school to be a photographer or a painter, I’d have to say painter, although that’s only a half truth. I think I started painting my sophomore year, taking a watercolor class with the drawing/painting prof that I was convinced hated me at the time. It was a pretty inspiring experience, and was the first time I started hanging out in the studio late nights working till the early morning. It was great.
DE – How did you come to mixed media?
CS – I was brought to the idea of mixed media first by meeting the artist Noah Shem Klein, he had just finished his MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philly and was covering the drawing and painting courses at Shippensburg while the full time prof was on sabbatical. I had an independent study course with him, and he’s the one who taught me how to be a real artist, in the sense of not just identifying yourself with you creative impulses but actually putting them into practice. He first introduced me to the idea of doing toner based transfers into acrylic medium, but of course let me figure it out on my own.
DE – What’s your process like?
CS – My process typically starts with just doing under paintings on blank supports. Often times I’m not even sure what imagery is going to go on them, but I like to develop a layered surface first and then the ideas start coming together. Next I’ll look through my files of photos I’ve taken. Recently, I’ve been photographing subjects with a bit more intention, planning out a body of work that I’ll be putting together. Once I have some options as far as photo imagery, I begin to decide which ones will be more central and then supporting imagery. Sometimes these images are collage and sometime transfer, either directly over the under painting or silver leaf/aluminum foil that I’ve laid down. Then, I just paint. I try to stay open to what an individual work needs so that I’m not trapped in an exact process, but that’s the gist of it.
DE – What is this most recent body of work about?
CS – The most recent body of work is portraits. Some of them are self portraits and others are not, but they are a reflection of, I guess what you could call, constants in my life, my people, myself. In the past year, at times, I’d felt like I lived in three different places at once, back home in south central Pennsylvania, New York, and with my fiance in Philadelphia. A large part of my time being in metropolitan areas, I became aware of a lack of my typical subjects, the natural environment, dead animal, etc. So after allot of “what am I going to take pictures of and paint??”, I realized that I can paint these people in my life.
DE – The images I’ve seen have a environmental, organic aesthetic. What’s behind that?
CS – Well, if you’ve ever been to the rural parts of south central PA, you may have noticed that there is not much going on; there’re great musicians, but few opportunities to catch a great show, great artists, but not much as far as museums or galleries, the list goes on and on. However, the natural landscape is at times staggeringly beautiful. After spending x amount of years there and the full opportunity to get down about the lack of liveliness, I began at some point really appreciating my natural surroundings. The winter there can be kinda depressing, but walk through an apple orchard full of gnarly, barren, Halloween looking fruit trees and it’s really pretty. Oh, and the dead animals on the sides of the road! I’ve looked very creepy at times hovering over road kill with a camera, while a line of traffic passes by, but it’s everywhere and always know where you are because of these kinds of things.
DE – What contemporary mixed media artist inspire you now?
CS – I’d have tho say that allot of my inspiration is drawn from my friends that work, not all of them doing mixed media. Sifting through the art periodicals over the years looking for something new and exciting has only taken me so far, but to sit and talk shop with one of my friends always makes me feel like working.
Aric Sites is a great painter from my area in PA that does some mixed media work. The body of work “Weight”, based on his poetic journal writings, that he’s now finishing oscillates beautifully in the approach to individual works.
Gordon Rabut from the Philly area does drawings on paper that juxtapose animals, and weird characters that look like soldiers from the Vietnam War. I’m always looking forward to seeing what he’s up to.
Last year I met David Hochbaum who’s work I’d been familiar with and highly appreciated, and he’s been a great insight to many aspects of the art world that I’d not had the opportunity to experience yet.
Um, Carlos Tarrats, I don’t know the guy, but he’s an awesome photographer from L.A. that has a really cool process of making physical photo filters out of plexiglass and shooting his strange organic models through them.
DE – Mixed media is only in the more recent decades been looked at serious, both in institutions and the marketplace. Do you feel this affects you work?
CS – I’m not sure. After going through the whole grad application process this past winter, I found that I was not accepted into an MFA program, all of which were in NY,  for the fall, but I’d like to give the institutions the benefit of the doubt and assume that it wasn’t because of my media. As far as marketplace, I don’t think I’ve had “collectors” buying my work yet, and I have allot of faith in the art appreciators/buyers to just simply respond to the work they see, and not just disregard it because they have a prejudice towards certain media, but we’ll see what happens in the future.
DE – On a similar note, I’ve find it hard to find truly compelling artists in the field. I was so excited when I came across your work. What do you think about what your peers are doing, and what type of feedback have you received for your work?
CS – Feedback has been really great. I think that when you share the habits of working in a studio with another person, especially those who are familiar with your work and you with theirs, there is an extreme amount of respect, support, and generosity that is extended by both parties. The hard work of criticism comes later when you are both able to open up about the other’s new work, but it’s a great experience and exchange. It’s what helps to keep us all going.

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