New England Wax member Stephanie Roberts-Camello was recently interviewed by fellow member Dona Mara Friedman.
DM: Tell us about how you began with art.
S: I attended Northern Arizona University in 1980, but realized art school was where I belonged. I was accepted mid-year to Rhode Island School of Design and fell in love with the place. They nurtured the individual, helped each student develop their strengths, and I thrived there.
DM: How did you start working with wax and do you use any other mediums?
S: My love of experimentation is a big part of my process, so having a working knowledge of many mediums assists me as I explore. My introduction to encaustic was with Tracy Spadafora in 1995. My studio was in a warehouse where an artist down the hall was using encaustic, and provided an introduction to a fascinating process. It took me many years to feel comfortable with encaustic because of its quick set up. I had trouble finding a flow but started by saturating rice paper with wax then using oil sticks on top. I began cutting up the rice paper into strips, weaving and cutting patterns within them before I painted on top. Many series begin with some form of destruction including the work that I’m doing now. At RISD, my professor Alfred Decredico had us destroy each assignment at the end of the critique, putting the pieces in a pile in the middle of the table. We then pulled pieces from that pile to work on the next project. I learned so much in that class about letting go and not being precious.
DM: Who do you look at for inspiration?
S: The pure abstraction and movement of deKooning and Diebenkorn are two of my go tos when I want to look at lush painting. I also love work rich in pattern like Tara Donovan, James Sienna, Philip Taffe, and Fred Tomaselli. Lee Bontecou and Susan Rothenberg are other favorites. Pattern was prominent in my past work and I expect it will resurface in the future.
DM: Describe your process of creating art.
S: My paintings have always been personal, as I create I sort out problems. Working abstractly, I would begin with drawing, reacting to the marks, creating relationships of shape, adding color and movement. The titles often reference personal events. Recently I begin either with family letters from the Great Depression, or with words, phrases, sentences that refer to blocks or doubts that hold me back or issues that I want to be free of. The old letters are metaphors for endurance. I build up layers of encaustic wax over the letters or words covering and concealing. Peeling up parts, or the entire surface, has added a sculptural element and exciting new vocabulary to my visual language. The peeling plays a role in removing a build up and seeing what has been lying dormant underneath. The depth created working this way is jarring to me, confrontational, alluring, and frightening. There is risk involved, but the presence of this relief work conveys a sense of resilience and life which keeps me returning. It speaks of shrouds or life forms with a boldness and beauty that is also fragile. I have a short period of time to make decisions. There are a few options, once I’ve peeled the wax. Sometimes I see the piece as a free form shape that needs to be attached to a smaller panel into which I pour medium. Other times it may be wrapped around a smaller panel, or reattached to the panel it came off of and shaped. I have to be mentally prepared and know I won’t be interrupted. Doors get locked and the phone turned off!
DM: Do you have jobs other than making art?
S: My husband and I started a honey business in 2005 called Queen Bee Honey products. Paul takes care of the honey bees and I created a line of products that use either honey and or beeswax in them. Products include soaps, lotions, healing balm, lip balm, candles, infused honey, and during the summer months at the farmers markets, I make baklava. I make a natural yellow medium from the wax I harvest and use it in yellows, reds and greens, for personal use,. The land owned by my folks in Pembroke, Massachusetts has both the hives and my studio. I grew up here, without neighbors, surrounded by the forest, pond, and swamps. Our shop for business is downstairs, so I literally split many of my days making products the first half, and then go upstairs to the studio to paint. Some days one creative activity wins out. We live half a mile down the street, which is conveniently a short idyllic walk in good weather.