Artist of the Week – Stephanie Rayner

June 1, 2012 § 4 Comments

Watercolour Print Artist, Stephanie Rayner

Dan Brown has it. Nelson Mandela has it. And this week’s Artist of the Week, Stephanie Rayner, has it.

“It” is the ability to inspire people to question their beliefs. Perhaps not change anyone’s mind, but to start an internal dialogue. To encourage someone to realize that the status quo can evolve, that the necessary evolution of ideas will lead to a greater depth of understanding. Rayner engages the viewer not by forcing them to question whether what she creates is art, but instead, whether or not they are ready to ascend to a new level of perception.

She blends religion, mythology, science, art, music, media, and ideas into thought-provoking works. Every piece is not just beautiful, but opens the doors to new dimensions waiting to be discovered. Her print works are layers upon layers of watercolour and subtleties of colour and texture; her gallery creations are typically large, often installation-style pieces blending research, innuendo, metaphor, and allegory.

Although her epic creations take hundreds of hours to create and years of planning and research, her beginnings were humble enough. In this day and age, many children and youth are raised to be empowered – they believe they can do anything, be anything. Despite coming from a long line of artists, Rayner’s father discouraged her, claiming that “There’s no place for women in art”, nor would there be.

Stephanie took the advice to heart. Rather than pursuing her lifelong dream, she decided that if she couldn’t be an artist she would choose a field so closely related to it that it would amount to almost the same thing: interior design. But, either through a cruel twist of fate or part of a larger, grander design, Rayner soon realized that while her part-time jobs could collectively pay for tuition, her pockets weren’t deep enough to pay for the supplies and materials required. (Sadly, her “burlap and found-object chairs” simply didn’t impress the instructors – after all, there are only so many things you can make out of burlap before it loses its novelty…) She abandoned her studies to see the world…

In this day and age, it is hard to find places as yet undiscovered, or at the very least, off the “beaten-track”. But fortunately for Stephanie (who’d always wanted a TIME MACHINE!), there were still places in the 70s that just hadn’t quite made it into the 20th century. And the call to adventure began… Afghanistan, Iran, Central & South America, Hindu Kush…

In Africa, she lived in a tree house à la Swiss Family Robinson, during one of her trips to North Africa she was caught by slave-traders. In Central America, she rode out a hurricane with her partner in a tiny mail boat out of Belize, only to be marooned afterwards by the sailors when provisions ran low. As though torn from the pages of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island itself, they met their own Ben Gunn: a man stuck on the island who’d built a raft. With three people to man it, they landed on the shores of Guatemala at 2am. At gun-point.

They were stood against a wall, a firing squad in front of them.

Rayner recollects that she walked right towards the man in charge, his machine gun raised and trained on her, fearlessly whistling. It wasn’t until she had to sleep in a cabin with thousands of rats that her mettle deserted her. “They were like maggots, if you’ve ever seen a lot of them: they were sliding back and forth over each other, and wriggling and writhing. I didn’t scream when I thought I was going to be shot. I screamed when I saw the rats.”

Detail of “Spirit”

These experiences perhaps ingrained what Stephanie now understands to be a universal truth : “[The human] ability to deal with the world has always involved art and expression, it is a window for the soul,” she explains, “From the beginning, cavemen used art to deal with things beyond their understanding.” That might begin to explain why she whistled a tune in the face of almost certain death…

Nor was the episode in Guatemala the last of her adventures. In 1999, Rayner was asked to speak in Malta at joint INSAPP II, a Vatican Symposium on religion and science. Then, Stanford University’s Centre for Advanced Learning hosted her in 2002, to lecture a group of international scholars on “Art and the Evolution of Human Consciousness” in Palo Alto, California. A couple years later, the Zygon Centre in Chicago invited her to speak at their “Epic of Creation Lecture Series”. While the next few years calmed down ever-so-slightly, the momentum picked up once more when she was invited to China in 2009 to teach her own unique printing process at Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, in Shen Yang, and to lecture on her art at various other universities and institutes throughout China.

She spoke of meaning and soulfulness in art; and how, possessed of the best technique in the world, an artist (or a work of art) can still lack soul and vitality. It was, for her, an incredible experience. Teaching energizes her; she sees the potential in each and every student and she loves to see the students blossom in their creativity.

The two courses she’s offering this summer in watercolour printmaking will no doubt be fantastic; the first, Watercolour Monotypes, will be running from July 30th – Aug 3rd and encourages students to loosen up in their creative process, while still achieving outstanding and breathtaking results; the second, Impasto Waterbase Printmaking, will be running the following week from Aug 6th – 10th and teaches the intense layering of pigmentation that reveals itself as the prints are pulled. Students have virtually filled the halls with drying prints – all exceptionally beautiful and totally unique to the artists.

“The medium is forgiving, it’s experimental but you can have control, too,” she says about her watercolour printmaking techniques. “If you dance with it, it dances back. And there has to be teamwork in the process as well: students assist each other at the press and everyone is excited when a new print is pulled. You can hear us cheering in the halls!”

Her current work in progress will be the culmination of many years of work and research: a twenty-nine foot boat titled Eternal Return, it reveals the shared mythology of the many cultures that make use of a boat to journey to the Otherworld. It is an epic mixed-media work involving moose ribs, wood, glass, DNA-sequencing, Mozart’s Requiem, dice, and countless hours of research and construction. We can’t wait to see it!

To register for either of Stephanie’s workshops, or for more information, please call 1-866-353-6464 x3 or visit us online at www.hsta.ca

To get in touch with Stephanie, please visit her website at www.stephanierayner.com

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