Dogs, Cats and Cake: Interview with Artist Vanessa Stockard
Vanessa Stockard was born in 1975 in Sydney and spent her formative years in a small country town in the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. At 12 she returned to Sydney and after graduating from the College of Fine Arts (COFA) Sydney in 1998 with a BFA, Stockard launched head first into the avant-garde art scene in the bohemian village of Glebe.
Her ethereal works of art are a window into the soul of a talented and complex artist, one whose legacy is bound to resonate well past her generation. The existential nature of her painting viscerally questions our concepts of social relationships and reality.
Twenty years of introspection and experimentation, ranging over a number of media, have forged Vanessa’s style and vulcanised her craft, enabling her to reveal complex misdemeanours, while simultaneously demanding the viewer’s self-reflection. She deals with isolation and sadness with intimate care and attention.
anessa is unhindered by failure, always continuing the discovery of things previously unseen, revealing work that is fresh, unlaboured and penetrating. The deceptive everyday nature of her subject matter belies hidden depths of relationship, feeling and emotion. One could describe her process as absence of thought, a freedom of construct, not unlike the stream of consciousness associated with authors such as Hemmingway and Thomas Wolfe.
If light and shade were students, she would be their master. This skill, combined with a naturally deft hand and a determined use of perspective, imbue her subjects with gravitas. The artist refers to set design elements that often alter and morph as her piece progresses. She has said she feels grounded from her ability to draw from the benign surrounds of familiar life, infusing these images with a meaning that yields a meditative satisfaction.
Stockard’s oeuvre features many pieces developed without any direct visual reference but rather from memory, often incorporating domestic pets such as cats and dogs. Juxtaposing the anthropomorphic nature these animals are given by our society, she infuses the personification of virtue and vice into the everyday canine and feline status quo of our pets. Cats with their fluffy comical exteriors glint with an instinctive urge to kill and cruelly torment their prey, dogs with their providence of happiness, loyalty and friendship are flung back onto Churchill’s menacing metaphor for depression.
The Kafkaesque mindset behind such works is reminiscent of the existentialist authors like Sartre and Camus. Absurdism appears with cake imagery and its relation to a childlike nostalgia for happiness which may never be real, but rather imaginary, unattainable and unachievable. It’s been said “pain is inexhaustible, it’s only people who get exhausted…”
One can never “have it all”, to be both the artist and patron. To intrinsically understand those things around us that others overlook is what we want from our artists, our creatives. They give voice to the profound mystery of the world around us, surrounded as we are with consumerism, pointless greed, deceit and dissatisfaction. There’s no pretension here in these paintings, just spontaneous insight and beauty. Some art is said to speak volumes, but these works are more like innocent and delicate poems, whispering untold truths with an economy of words.
We love the playful, whimsical way in which you depict cats and dogs. When did you first begin exploring this subject matter?
Thank you! I have always enjoyed reading human traits in animals, cats can be so soft and toy-like, yet demonic too, dogs in their loyalty, just not where food is concerned. So that's 22 years worth so far and counting.
What do you look for when you start a painting. What inspires you?
Each day is different and I never know what's about to happen in the studio. My palette is chosen depending on my mood, an idea I might have been thinking about during the wakeful hours with my one year old often gets made into a painting the next day. What happens to that idea and how it morphs is a method of play and intuitive design. Usually, I find my work helpful in putting out real life issues and that translates pictorially by the end of the days work.
Describe your typical day. Do you make art full time or do you have other responsibilities outside of the studio?
I work 5 days a week in the studio painting, I would paint 7 days but I force at least one day off each week. I feel most content in myself when I am lost in a painting.
How do you find balance and replenish your creativity?
That's very funny! I'm definitely not balanced but I clean the house and cook and do the damned laundry etc., and I read a paragraph a night of a random book before I pass out.
What advice would you give artists trying to break out of their shell and try something fun in their work?
This is an interesting question and unless you are very lucky or a genius, finding your own voice takes time. It is hard to avoid either your teachers and or your peers influence at the same time as you are learning. I thoroughly encourage the act of play as an important part of learning, the happy accident can be a real turning juncture in finding your signature. Look at art in the flesh and paint what is around you, paint your life.
What are you currently working on and what events should we be on the lookout for?
Currently I am learning to have more patience with a painting, to make sure it is really finished. Right now I am showing in New York with Vanrensburg galleries.