Stephanie “Chef” Owens is a multimedia artist from Huntsville, AL! Her current work focuses on bright colors and surreal imagery that provokes conversation. She was selected for Behold the Art’s first Solo Exhibit, entitled “Atomic Collection”. Dig-in to how she became the artist that she is now and how her concept for this solo exhibit came together.
Q: Introduce yourself! Where did your passion for art come from?
A: I’ve always been creative; my mom’s a photographer and my dad used to paint a lot. So just a combination of their aesthetics helped form what I do. So it’s always been there but I haven't made a business of it until the last few years which has just been building since.
Q: Where did you get the name Chef Steph from?
A: When I was little that’s what I wanted to be, a chef. My mom used to call me Chef Steph and it stuck and I love food to this day. And I’m always cooking up stuff so it works.
Q: Do you have any formal schooling or just tidbits that you’ve picked up from your parents?
A: Mostly from my parents or Youtube, or anything I get my hands on. I went to school for marketing so I’m a business student. I don't have any technical training; It’s mostly self taught.
Q: I can see the marketing! When I first started following you, you picked up a lot of followers fairly quickly. Your following and fanbase started to boom very fast. Your rollout was phenomenal. I will say that.
A: Thank you, I worked hard on it. I’m glad someone noticed *laughs*.
Q: How do you balance your everyday life, creation, and marketing?
A: I allocate my time. If I don’t get all my business done within a 4-hour frame then it’s just not gonna get done and I don't stress it. If I can’t create what I want to create within my 4-hour window for that then it's not meant to be done. I just stay within my parameters so I don't stress myself out. I don't weight the importance of one thing over the other.
Q: Which contemporary artists are you drawn to at the moment?
A: A couple currently. Es Delvin: she’s a set designer. She does light work and strobing effects for Kanye and other artists and I think that’s amazing. Marina Abramovic: a performance artist.
Q: What about their work sticks out to you?
A: Es Delvin thinks further than the immediate content of the piece and takes the entire space of the work into consideration. The immersive aspect of her work is what stick out to me. And Marina Abramovic focuses heavily on the connection with her audience. There’s an interactive and personal approach in all of her work that I find admirable.
Q: How do you approach your process of painting? Well creating in general because I know you do photography as well.
A: There’s this spontaneity about it. I write down everything. Anything that comes to mind or I’ll sketch it up. “Self Portrait of You” I probably drew initially a year ago and just now felt like I could do it. It’s just a matter of pulling out of my hat of ideas at the right time. I don't really plan for what I make that well.
Q: That's a refreshing way to go about creating and something I admire, to be honest. I know whenever I would really take my time to create something, it was always from a source of pain or this negative space. It was never a “I feel like making this today” or “I feel good. Let me make this”. So I completely get creating spontaneously from a positive space.
A: It took a point for me to get like this because I forced art for a long time trying to figure out what I was gonna do, how I was gonna do it, or who I was gonna make it for. So I guess I wasn’t creating from the right sources then; so, I understand having to draw from pain or different reservoirs. But it developed now where I can pick and choose. So yea that took a minute.
Q: What or who inspires you to create? Where does that inspiration come from?
A: Initially, a lot of my things were inspired by nostalgia or just pop culture, thinks around my immediate circle. Just things that influenced us directly through social media. So a lot of my work just nodded towards 90’s or cartoons or things that are memorable for our age group. But since then it started examining more deeply the things that come along with that and not just the imagery and stuff we remember.
Q: What would you say your art style is?
A: At the moment it's crossing into more surrealism as far as my subject matter as well as abstract. But at the same time its more illustrative because of my cartoons. I’m not that much of a realist artist at all.
Q: What was the driving force behind Atomic Collection?
A: I was doing a study on human features and drawing people. So I was doing a lot of facial structures and a lot of different kind of eyes and things tied to ethnicity and race. Then I realized the similarities in creating them but also the differences of how they come out. So I tried to remove all of that and only give the audience the important parts of the identity or a person. So that became the product of the first one I did which was “Elixir”. I put the hand in the jar because you have your hand, you have your fingerprints, you have this whole identity but you still have to wonder about the rest of the life attached to it. That was the starting point and it just flowed from there.
Q: What I liked about your -- first of all your submission: I really liked all of the pieces and I liked that the description read to me as “Things we’re all connected by”. Looking at each piece - each piece was not whole. No one piece had all of everything. For example in “Splitting Atoms”, it has the body but not the hands and the legs. I liked “Self Portrait of You” the most because you think of flowers being symbolism for growth. For these flowers to be juxtaposed by this seemingly decomposing body was an interesting contrast.
A: Thank you. I was trying to figure out how to balance those two so the fact that the duality came through ok is good to hear.
Q: What are ventures have you delved into or that you would like to go into?
A: I’m actually starting to bring back my apparel in clothing. I used to do a lot of graphic design for t-shirts. I’m illustrating a book for someone at the moment so that’s a new thing. And I have a jewelry line out currently. Jewelry is a lot harder to make than I initially thought *laughs*.
Q: I did see you promoting apparel. Is it your artwork on there or is it other designs as well?
A: Right now, I just have the one out with “Self Portrait of You” on it but I have some graphic designs specifically for T-shirts too. I just haven’t dropped any recently. I’m working on that soon.
Q: How did you get into doing the book illustration?
A: I work at a library and I usually just draw on sticky notes every day about things that are funny that happen while I’m there or throughout the day and I post them around. I guess one of our patrons saw one and was like “I want this in my book”. I thought he was playing but he came back a few days later and drafted up a contract and that was that. He just saw my doodles in the library.
Q: How do you feel like the art community is in Huntsville, or in Alabama in general?
A: The talent is here, the need is here; but the infrastructure and the means for us to connect are not. So it’s not as strong or as prominent as it should be but that doesn't mean that it’s not thriving.
Q: What’s something specific that you feel that the community needs that if you could implement you would?
A: My creative community needs a stronger network and platform to display and ditribute our talents. Something simple like a studio to work or a venue to host would be a small but impactful start.
Q: Do you ever plan on moving away from AL or is that where you plan on spreading your art from?
A: I want to do what I can for AL while I'm here, but I’m always free to go wherever the wind blows. I just don’t know where that is right now. So I’m Chillin.
Q: What are your goals for your art? Where do you see your art going?
A: More group exhibitions for sure. By 2020, I want a very well curated solo exhibition somewhere other than my hometown. I want to be seen. That’s my goal, for now, just to get a good show in the next year. A physical place! I get a lot of things online that have been helping me but I want to have a physical experience. So whenever you get your space, call me.
Q: I will! I will! At first, I thought that artist weren’t really trying to be in a gallery space because they can sell their own work online. They can do that without having the gallery as the middle man.
A: Yea you can. But I feel like you miss a part of the artistry when you skip that step. I like selling online but I like going to events. I like BEING an artist as much as I do selling online.
Q: Like it’s part of that human interaction.
A: Right. Yea, if you don’t hang your art before it sells and no one sees it between now and someone’s living room, then it missed a lot of good time. I want it to go somewhere before it goes to a good home; that way more people can see it.
Q: That makes sense. Like see it physically and not just online. I think that the online art culture has this way of pressuring artists into having to constantly produce art because you can flip through things so fast. Which is why I try not to be a part of that. There are pieces that are in the gallery right now that have been in there since I launched in June. I just now decided that I was going to review and take pieces off. But I don’t want to be a part of that pressure to the artists on here just because “Well she hasn’t made more work” or “This is kind of older and his skills have progressed or he’s made more work so let me update”. I don’t want to be a part of that because at the end of the day it still represents a moment in time in that artist's career. Even though it is good to see the progression in artists. It still that snapshot that I really appreciate.
A: Yea the average life of a tweet is 18 minutes right now. So if you apply that to art, you have to constantly create. At least if it hangs in a gallery you have a much longer shelf life which is better. I’d like to have things up longer than 20 minutes.