Studio Visit Book Vol. 1

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Expressing Freedom and Self-Discovery through Painting: Interview with Stephanie Kirkland

Stephanie Kirkland is a contemporary expressionist painter living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her work includes abstract and landscape paintings informed by the many miles she’s spent hiking in remote parts of the globe. Using elements of nature as metaphors, her paintings explore themes of imperfection, resilience, authenticity, releasing control, and finding beauty in the challenge. Her paintings are known for their expressiveness and uniqueness of color, and they are collected in homes across the United States. 

Arizona Sunrise

Painting showed me the freedom of knowing that nothing is permanent—but you have to at least try and make some marks if you want to create anything worthwhile.

In conversation with the artist Stephanie Kirkland where she shares how she developed her style of paintings, how she finds inspiration from her hiking trips and how her childhood framed her to be the artist she is today.

1. Stephanie, the brushstrokes in your paintings are very expressive. How did you develop this style of painting?

I started painting in this style in college when I started painting abstract landscapes. When looking at the landscape around me and thinking about how I could abstract it, I was really inspired by the wind blowing through tree leaves. So the brushstrokes naturally came out of that—me looking up at light shining through trees, and trying to mimic the movement of the wind blowing through them. I also really like the energy and emotion that you feel from big, expressive, movement-focused brushstrokes. My paintings are all about letting go and releasing control, and I find that expressive brushstrokes embody those ideas—because you can’t control them and they are what they are. They are beautiful and captivating because they’re authentic.

2. I just love the dripping colors in the artwork. According to you, what does it signify in your paintings?

The drips are all about emotion and letting go. You can’t control drips—they are what they are. As an artist, you take a bit of a risk when you add a drip to a painting because you don’t know where it’s going to fall or how it’s going to turn out. So in that sense, drips are like metaphors for life. They signify taking risks and letting go of control and being okay no matter the outcome. Drips feel really vulnerable to me, like an emotion that you’re sharing. They can signify hardship, almost as if they’re crying, or they can signify a relaxed and calm looseness, like confidence in being who you are. It depends on the painting.

My paintings are a mirror—reminding you to look within, breathe, embrace the messiness, and remember the power and beauty within yourself.

3. So you are inspired by your hiking trips. In what way do you think your childhood influenced you to be the artist you are today? Were you a hiker in your childhood?

I never really hiked as a child, but I did grow up in a rural area where I spent much of my time outside, so I’ve always had a love for nature (everything from climbing trees to laying in the grass to camping to swimming in lakes and marveling at sunsets). Being out in nature has always made me feel calm and free to be myself, even as a young child. So I think my art is a natural extension of that. My paintings are inspired by the colors and textures and feelings of being outside, and capturing that calm and freedom that I feel in nature. In some ways, my art feels like the freedom I felt in childhood when running around my neighborhood at dusk. I still see so many of those colors and textures, from the sky-inspired pinks to the deep-dusk blues to the deep green grass.

4. Stephanie, can you name any women artists that are your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is the abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell. She was one of the first women artists to gain recognition in the 1960s, and I love her style and approach. Her work is all about using nature as a metaphor to communicate emotion and like me, she is very inspired by place. I had the opportunity to see her retrospective exhibition last year in Baltimore, and it was absolutely incredible. Her paintings are HUGE and have so much beautiful textures and layers that can only be experienced in person. Her paintings literally command your attention, which is what I strive for with my work. I am also really inspired by Bobbie Burgers, who is a contemporary abstract floral painter, and Maja Dlugolecki, whose paintings feel so personal and vulnerable to me.

5. Do you have any projects you are working on that you’d like to tell us about?

I am currently working on a new collection of paintings, which I’ve kept very close to the vest. I’m experimenting a lot right now and working through the creative process to make my paintings even more layered, moody, and bold than they already are. I’m making a lot of large pieces right now as well as some smaller studies on paper, and I’m really excited to see where they’re headed. Overall, I’m hoping this new collection will be very personal. With my past collections, I’ve leaned heavily on nature as inspiration for my work, but with this new collection, I want nature to be the vehicle and not the driver. The driver of this new work is my personal expression and experience as seen through a nature-inspired lens. I’m really excited about them and can’t wait to release these new paintings to my newsletter subscribers once they’re finished!

Read more about Stephanie Kirkland on her Website and Instagram.

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