The work of artist Hannah Stouffer tells the story of the world — not its politics or the various strains of its societal issues, but of the world itself. The land and its connected elements. In Stouffer’s work the human touch is akin to water and air. Dirt and wood. The electricity that binds the heavens to the soil. Stouffer unravels her experiences in the abstract and displays it in a beautified psychedelia, bringing heart to the decorative and ornamental. Her patterns focus on the emotional guts of life — the joy, the pain, and the search for meaning.
Through her career Stouffer has been artist, curator, art director, publisher, and writer. Fine art. Commercial work. Stouffer walks all paths simultaneously. In 2015 she launched H+ Creative, an experiential creative services agency set on providing visual and interactive experiences for clients looking to engage with their audiences through media and installations.
For Art Basel Miami 2015 Stouffer’s ever expanding creative world is moving forward once again, as Stouffer’s H+ Creative has teamed up with art consultant and curator Sarah Potter of SP Projects for the exhibition IRIDESCENCE featuring a wealth of international artists from David M Cook (Bonethrower), Giacomo Carmagnola, and Jose Di Gregorio. The exhibit runs from December 2nd through the 6th at The Shore Club South Beach. The work from IRIDESCENCE can be previewed online HERE.
I caught up with the artist while she was preparing for Art Basel and talked process and the narrative nature of her work.
ETDC: Writing for Juxtapoz and Lust-After as well as acting as a creative director has placed you in a position of spending a good portion of time thinking about the work of others. With having such an established style, are you able, or wanting, the art you experience to influence your work?
HS: I actually try my hardest for it not to. All I can hope for is that when I close my eyes at night it all disappears. I think its important to be aware and conscious of the work that is happening around you, but also just as conscious that it doesn’t leak into your own work too heavily.
I’m obviously attracted to and interested in my own strange array of obsessions, but maintaining a personal style that evolves as you do is the ultimate goal.
You take an incredibly wide variety of paths to create your non-commercial work — paintings, prints, ceramics, murals, and installations. What comes first, the concept or the medium? Do some designs or ideas translate better to certain mediums?
I love a good challenge and I’m also guilty of being infinitely curious. I explore concepts with a desire to also explore a new medium, or go back to something I’m comfortable with.
I really like the idea of transferring an idea to a varietal output, or exploring how it can relate to a different format be it video, sculpture, ceramic, neon, etc.
There’s a wonderful sense of exploration in your work. Your designs feel as if you’re discovering them that very moment. For something like your show ‘Internal Energy,’ once you’ve explored the concept and nailed that down, are you sketching roughs before you begin the final pieces?
Well thank you, I really appreciate that. They are both an exploration I’ve gone through myself, and one I hope to offer to the viewer as well — almost as a meditation. I might sketch a few ideas that would round out a concept, or color or shape palette but I’m pretty good at diving right in.
The title happens somewhere in the middle of the idea process, and the titles of the individual works happens last. I never really know the ‘right’ way to go at something, but I guess we all have our own methods anyway.
Like the exploration in your personal work, you’ve explored a great deal of products from apparel to cellphone cases. The breadth of your creative output is daunting. What brings you into jobs like your Vans collaboration or a jacket design? Are you personally seeking out those types of gigs? Are you at a point in your career where you can think, ‘it’d be fun to design a pair of Vans,’ and make that job happen?
Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done anything, is that crazy? I’ve been really lucky in my career with the whole ‘right place, right time’ thing in illustration. I’ve been very fortunate and haven’t had to do much seeking I suppose.
That being said, between my agent and myself there is always a lot of promotion that goes into a creative career and I do some proposing at this point. Then there’s that other part where being a creative is completely consuming, not just as a day job — as everything I do. I’ve also noticed that once I’ve completed a job, the snowball effect often kicks in and I get flooded with requests for the same type of project. I don’t know…people are funny.
Having moved between Los Angeles and San Francisco myself, I felt myself shift within each city, for better or for worse. You’ve lived and worked in both cities and I was curious if the voice of either city has had an affect on your work. Is what you create in LA different than what you would have done in SF, or vice versa?
I don’t think it has affected my output, as my set-up stays pretty similar. Short commute, open air studio separate from my house, a regularish schedule to make me feel kinda like a human…my dog. I can work from almost anywhere and have to be honest.
Freelance has been very freeing and I’ve been able to travel and work at the same time for the most part. I’ve worked with mobile studios all over the place, on trains, on the beach, my friends living rooms…I don’t need much and what I don’t have I can usually rig out of a lightbulb and a piece of glass, like Macgyver.
Your gallery shows exist as a single idea within the greater body of your work. Each is its own thought, but looking at them all together, they still very much exist in the ‘Hannah Stouffer’ universe. It’s almost like each show is a chapter in a novel, building on the last and telling an overall narrative. Is that a conscious decision? Am I seeing something that isn’t there?
I’m SO glad someone has caught onto that. Thank you. Sometimes I feel spastic working with entire new themes and ideas behind each show, but of course there is an underlying cohesion between them, which is just me. It all goes back to my curiosity.
I’ve never been one of those artists that can put out the same product for years on end, repeating an image or icon, and I have a hard time understanding those that do. I think the formula works really well for the common public and the recognizability factor, but I’ve never really been one to focus on those things either.
Your show ‘Stolen Kisses’ felt like a quiet summation of what it is you do. It was so pure and exact in its voice – all of the lightness, joy, spirituality, and rituals you explore perfectly displayed. Even the space itself, with the artists the only attendees as the audience watched ghost-like via computer, lent an interesting quality to the show. Is there a piece or project you’ve done that you feel sums up, ‘this is what I do’?
Stolen Kisses and Ghost Room Gallery was a crazy concept my studio mate Johnny Vampotna and I developed. We wanted it to be accessible / completely inaccessible at the same time. We worked through the ideas behind the show and it was very heavily involved with personal relationships with spirituality, love, live, death… you know, the big stuff.
None of it has ever really summed up ‘this is what I do’ because we are all extremely complex beings, or at least I’d like to think so.
For ‘Stolen Kisses’ you showed alongside another artist, something you’ve done a bit before. From shows like this to murals to product design there’s a collaborative, or interactive, nature to what you do. There’s a sense that you like to engage with your work and others. Is that engagement vital to your process?
Johnny and I work great together, though collaboration I think is a hard thing for most artists. We didn’t collaborate on the work at all, just the ideation and concepting behind it, which is what holds greatest importance, right?
I engage with my work and others on a very personal level, of course, but the process we each go through is different, I think that can be a very heavy and sensitive thing to be able to create together. Or maybe it’s just really fun and light, what do I know.
With the launch of your creative services agency H+ Creative you’ve taken your freelance status and turned it into a much larger business. What prompted the move? Will you be bringing other artists on board?
I started H+ Creative with the intention of creating something bigger than myself I suppose. It’s still evolving and working itself out, but I’ve found a comfortable place with calling it an ‘experiential creative services agency.’ I want it to be centered on client connectivity through visual production, art direction, consultation and curation. I hope to branch into a more production oriented role with projects that expand my own conceptual process.
I’m currently working on an exhibition / event series for Art Basel in Miami called IRIDESCENCE and I’ve partnered with SP Projects out of Philadelphia to do so. It’s a pretty ambitious activation based on the ‘New Futurism’ genre and we’ll be hosting it at The Shore Club in South Beach. I’m not sure if I’ll be officially be bringing anyone on board yet, but am open to applicants! If you’re out in Miami Dec 2nd – 6th, come drink a cocktail by the pool with me!!