The Self Portrait Challenge
Once you have the shape hang it up for awhile - answer some of these questions and then go for it using all your favourite mediums - language, collage, whatever takes your fancy.
Reflect upon your psychological and spiritual evolution and describe the roads you have chosen to travel. Where are you going? What conflicts are you dealing with? What do you love? Whom do you love? How do you love? Colour your moods! What are your dreams or visions for the future and how much attention do you pay to them? Reflect on the dark side. Draw those night terrors. Have them spurting forth from your head. What don't you like about yourself? What things have bought you pain? What are you afraid of? What has bought you joy? What parts of yourself are you reluctant to claim? If you did a retrospective who would you present?
About Irish the Cat
Irish is a nosy bugger who canít bear to miss
out on anything. As Dorian was outlining me (I am now covered in permanent
blank ink, thank you very much!) the cat lay above my head meowing for
it to be his turn next. I obliged. I explained the project to him and
left him alone with a box of pencil crayons. Left to his own devices he
proved himself to be no Van Gogh. He was, however, honest in his depiction
of what fills the nooks and crannies of this mystery we call Irish. Apparently,
there wasnít much to reveal. What part of his soul isnít dedicated to
all manner of fish, the Seussian variety included for a little whimsy,
was saturated with catnip (he tells me thatís what all the green is about).
And yes, Heather, he really is a very large cat.
Work at the Soul Food Cafe
An interview with Stephanie Hansen at Worth Studio
HB All the creation myths suggest that the universe was created from nothing. How does your art affirm that a creator simply connects the seemingly unconnected to make new art forms?
SH: You'll have to forgive me for this one, darling, but I'm not at all certain that 'my' art affirms anything at all about anyone or anything other than myself. "New art forms"? What I know of history and art assures me that all art is sculptural, pictorial, musical, colour, assemblage or culinary, and none of those forms are new. Just as there are many combinations of words to express the same thought, there are many ways to explore each existing art form. Some people are disconcerted and discouraged by the thought "it's all been done before!" I am particularly comforted and encouraged by the fact. It takes a lot of pressure off of me, this not having to fulfill the role of God of Art. It makes me feel grounded in my humanity to know that I am just like the men and women who, for centuries, have use the bounty and the refuse of the earth and themselves to fulfill physical, mental and spiritual needs. What could be more creative in this day and age than to be able to open ones mind up wide enough to envelope the awareness that "it's all been done before"?
HB. What on earth ever induced you to play with pieces of paper and paste?
SH: There are dozens of answers to this question. Beyond the typical aspect of subverting poverty and consumerism, the fact is that I never cared to learn what anything was made of or how anything worked...except human beings. I have always been fascinated by the physical and mental makings of people. The problem this created was that when I had to rely on myself to make what I needed and wanted, I had no idea where to begin. I couldn't even cook. But I remembered well my craft lessons from early grade school. Particularly, I remembered how to make bowls and vases from paper and paste. I had to start somewhere so I started there thinking only of 'priming the creative pumps' to help me figure out more complicated and impressive techniques for building. Ten years later I'm still practicing and exploring the uses for this craft. It felt good the first time I turned to it for need and comfort in my adulthood and it still satisfies. Like banana flavoured popsicles. I'll never be done loving them.
HB To what extent is your art driven by the need for love?
SH: Entirely. All of it. To the fullest extent. My art is driven by the need for love from myself. When I make art, I am making peace with myself...with all that I am and all that I am not, which is humility. The act of creating is humbling. There's boundless freedom in humility. And it is for your love, too...not the love I receive, but what and how I am able to give love to you. It's all in the intent.
HB You have told me that you are afraid your answers will be stupid and ugly and that you are afraid the truth is boring and will reveal that you are really a fraud and a fool. If you had to compile a retrospective what pieces of your work would you fearlessly show?
SH: I'm a human being who hasn't attained Buddhahood, darling; I don't know how to be fearless. The pieces I am most comfortable with were sold, unphotographed for posterity, before I had any idea that what I did had any recognizable artistic merit. Off the top of my head, the three pieces I am most comfortable with are the paintings, "Home Is Where...", and "Hands Are For...", as well as the papier mache mobile, "Mindful Awareness". Why? Because they express what I most deeply need to express in order to feel that I've been honest with the world about who I am and what I'm about. They aren't specataculary artful or beautiful; they're just a laying of the cards on the table. These three pieces illustrate my focus in life...what I cannot bear to exist without: respect, responsibility, and reality.
HB The inner self of artists such as Picasso are possessed by duende. They often describe themselves as being guided by an unknown being, who uses them like an instrument. Language is an integral part of your art? Do you ever have a sense of being used as an instrument or are your words sourced in a desire to fill a void?
This question is a challenge on many levels; the first challenge is writing an answer regarding my sense of 'god' or 'higher power' which is now quite different from the way I saw 'it' when I anwered the question "Who is your Muse?" No, I don't believe I'm being used as an instrument. I don't believe there's a Grand Orchestrator or Ultimate Usher pushing me toward or away from any action. I believe we are all choosing from the same list of character assets and defects. The assets are on the right side of the page and the defects are on the left and each day, each moment, our responsibility to ourselves and to each other is to look at what's going on around us and decide which side of the page we'd like to be on today. The most important factor in that constant decision making process is to be aware that every person and particle on this earth is connected. What goes around comes around...in some way, shape or form. My actions are independant, but not isolated. Am I trying to fill a void? Yes: sometimes mine, sometimes yours, and always the ones we share.
By the way, was..."Language was an integral part of your art?"...supposed to be a question, or just a lead-in to the question? It shouldn't be a lead-in because it has it's own response quite separate from the above answer. I could write a short book about the whys and the ways that the power of language is so important to me. My work is filled with the articulation of unpopular truth. A mirror on which I painted, "I am the most important person in my life. I am more important than my parents or my children," was actually fought over by two women in their forties, each one determined to take it home. But first, each one gasped and declared, "I can't believe you said that!" Another mirror says, "I choose to love you. I have to love me." Society would have us believe that there are certain people - parents and children - that we have to love by virtue of their physical connection whereas I understand love to be a mental and spiritual connection. You can't make someone love a tree by tying them to it for twenty years.
The words I choose are intended to explore and explode the myths society has formed for the purpose of manipulating our choices. Even the mirror, "Believe...You are loved!" is socially daring because it leaves no room for the word "If". It doesn't ask if you are in a committed relationship. It doesn't care. It doesn't matter. It doesn't ask if you are pretty or your house is clean or if you hold doors open for other people. It is daring to suggest that we are allowed to be loved before we pass the test of usefulness. And then there are the dares to the cynics: "Turn your faith to the world and show courage," and "Life is Worth Living," and "You have enough, you are enough, you do enough". And still there are daring questions: "What does Enough look like?" and "Who do you think you are? ...Who told you?" I listen to the language that echoes timidly in the heart and roars in the subconscious and I release it...and hope it releases us.
HB. You have told me that your parent's did not like you? How has this affected your art? How do you find resolution through art?
SH: My parents didn't like me because I was very different from them and it was obvious. From the time I was very small I dared to disagree with my parents about people: I dismissed all stereotypes while they lived by them. We watched a film clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the television one night. I was embarrassed to think I could never be as brave and sure as he was; my parents snickered and called him a self-serving troublemaker who got what he had coming to him. We watched a sitcom about a gay man and his family, the first such show on tv to my knowledge. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the other characters' reactions to the homosexual character; my parents laughed at him. My parents viewed ridicule as their right and as a form of entertainment; I saw ridicule as a revelation of a weak mind, the hallmark of an unkind nature, the precursor to abuse.
In my home and in my immediate surroundings boys and men got more because they supposedly needed more: more food, more freedom, more playtime, more praise, more chances, and always the benefit of the doubt. I watched how that attitude changed the boys, made them more aggressive, demanding and quick to complain; interestingly, the girls' growing resentment of this attitude changed them in the same ways. However, these behaviours in boys were openly interpreted as "growing confidence" and "coming into their own", whereas girls were considered to be revealing their greedy, whining natures. I was forever astonished that no one seemed to be able to see what a mess they were responsible for perpetuating.
I stopped openly disagreeing early because I didn't see how it helped anyone, nor did I appreciate how it served as a lightening rod directing the mocking ridicule my way. This silence of many years never failed to make me feel like a liar and a coward. To make peace with myself, I needed to make a point of disagreeing again. I needed to say what I believed without regard to popularity. I needed to say, "This is what I see happening," no matter how many people might tell me I can't see straight or suggest that I'm fostering negativity by acknowledging the existence of negative attitudes. I needed to share words of encouragment, of validation, that someone - or many someones - might be waiting to hear. I said already that everything I do is about loving myself, about making peace with myself. Well, this is what I feel the need to make up for: my silence in the presence of my own awareness of the depth and breadth of oppressing ridicule as well as the damaging effects of the unfounded notions of gender privilege (undue privileges being granted to both genders) in our society still.
Not being able to change the whole world or dispel the gender, racial and other social myths once and for all is no reason for me to stop doing my part, nor should I take it as a sign that my part in the realistic revolution is too small to be powerful. The social dedication to 'letting it slide' in deference to our elders is awesome. It was put to me in no uncertain terms that if I did not continue to stay silent and cooperative in the face of my parent's oppressive attitudes and behaviours toward myself and others I would no longer be recognized as a member of the family. I get lonely sometimes now. Then I remember. Then I paint something. Then I'm not lonely anymore. Because then I have myself back.