CREATIVE PEAKS: Beautiful Wreck

By on May 3, 2016

Meet Heather Stamenov, Teton Artlab’s artist-in-residence for May.

Heather Stamenov depicts the human form juxtaposed by intriguing narrative elements.

Heather Stamenov depicts the human form juxtaposed by intriguing narrative elements.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Most people would be embarrassed after slipping and falling trying to exit a hot tub. They might glance around to see if anyone saw it and then pretend it didn’t happen. Heather Stamenov is immortalizing it in paint.

The Utah-based artist, who is spending May in Jackson as Teton Artlab’s artist-in- residence, is drawn to telling stories in paint inspired by clumsiness and mistakes.

“Usually the stories I like to tell fit that awkward space where things happen that you don’t expect to happen,” she said.

Stamenov explores the human form in her paintings, capturing people in staged and natural poses and in quirky settings. There’s one, for instance, of a diver toes pointed, his head already vanished in the water, surrounded by a line of legs and two cats. “I’ll create an image and wonder ‘What if I add this cat?’” she said. “That adds to the narrative. I’m building on layers in the painting. There’s a story here.”

Stamenov grew up in France and moved to Indiana at 16. It was in high school she discovered her interest and talent for art. What began as a hobby led to her studying art, specifically painting, at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indiana. She then went on to graduate school at the University of Connecticut.

She became totally immersed in oil painting, and focused on figure work.

Stamenov was always interested in the human body. As a child she walked the line between introvert and extrovert, drawn to people, but often as an observer. Figure painting allowed her to use her skills of observation she’d hone through the years.

The more she painted, the more she pondered the differences in staged posing and natural gestures.

She also started exploring capturing different angles. One day, after eating a burrito for lunch, she looked down at her belly. It inspired a painting.

For a long time she focused on curvy women, in part because it was a body-type she knew, but she also found it interesting to explore how women were presented on the Internet and in media.

It is only in recent years she started painting men.

“It’s a body I can’t relate to as much, so it’s more of an object or just a pose to capture,” she said.

Today she finds inspiration everywhere she goes, from pop culture to a recent trip to a zoo where she couldn’t stop taking pictures of people she’ll use for painting inspiration.

The scenes she renders often start from a personal place. She’s working on a painting featuring a traffic jam of crying women coming out of a tunnel, an idea she thought of after driving for days through a snowstorm from Indiana to Utah. It made her think about anxiety and also adult tantrums.

Stamenov uses Photoshop to bend reality to create templates for her paintings. She might want a pose the model couldn’t contort into, so Stamenov moves a hand in the photo, or she puts two bodies together that don’t quite fit. It gives her paintings a surrealist sensibility.

Her oil paintings are informed by the large European works of art with full narratives. A few years ago she started also working in watercolor, which allows her to create quicker studies.

When Stamenov first started painting, many of the people were in a room with a single wall. As she grew as a painter, she started spending more time and adding details to the settings. Her skills advanced and her vocabulary as a painter grew.

Since moving to Utah a few months ago, she’s started incorporating landscape work into her paintings, something she plans to continue experimenting with in Jackson.

“I’m a painter through and through, so I love color and shape,” she said.

She visited Moab for two weeks just to see the colors of Southern Utah’s desert landscape and hopes to explore the Tetons for more inspiration, both in subject matter and experiences.

She likes the idea of natural beauty meeting natural clumsiness.

“I’m hoping it will be a good juxtaposition with some awkward stories,” she said. “I think juxtaposing things that way, it might feel random, but it allows me and other people to see things in a new way.” PJH

Heather Stamenov artist talk, 7 p.m., May 16; open studio 6 to 8 p.m., May 26 at Teton Artlab, 130 South Jackson Steet. Free.

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