Every picture tells a story, Rod Stewart once said. And he might have been paraphrasing an ancient Chinese proverb, but that's not the point. The point is, every person who views a work of art will undoubtedly experience something different. And while that experience is linked to the power and meaning of a piece, so is the story of its creation.
Brenda Stumpf's mixed-media painting "Your Soft Silence Is Filled With Roots," showing at Ironton Studios through February 25, presents a complicated visual experience. "I've seen people stand back from the piece and approach it from three different angles," she says. It's easy to see why: The work engulfs the observer in a maze of objects, layers upon layers of crafted scenes, and a complex monochromatic scheme. It prompts the question, "What was she thinking?" To answer that question, Stumpf explains her process and inspiration.
When did you start working on the piece?
A year ago I started the whole series. "Your Soft Silence Is Filled With Roots" was the first piece of the seven. I had remnants of old baby doll parts, because I had used baby doll hands for one of my previous works. I started going through my stuff, as I do with my work, because I do a lot of reclaimed work. I knew I was going to do something about the seven victims of Jack the Ripper, but these objects called to me.
What was the inspiration? I usually research like a madwoman. I had more research for the other paintings, but it was intriguing, because at the same time, my sister was way into her pregnancy, and we knew she was going to be having a little girl, so I was researching a lot about that, too. I came across a lot of info on female infanticide. I'm sure you are aware of this, but in China and India, there are a disturbing number of baby girls who are killed.
So, one of the ways to look at this piece was through the lens of these statistics about these baby girls. But at the same time, everyone was waiting for this little being to come into the world. It created a paradigm. I am very fascinated in looking into the spiritual angle -- where does my niece come from, and at the same time, where do other spirits go? It's a cycle of death, a cycle of rebirth. So, that gives you some knowledge on how my work starts. Its research and found objects. That's one big chunk of where that piece came from.
How did you come up with the title?
Early on in the whole group of paintings, I really had a pulse on what the subject matter was. It was heavy, and I felt like it needed a salve for the women of the Inquisition, or the female babies. Long story short, there were Pablo Neruda poems -- that's where the title comes from, his poem called "Tina Modotti is dead." Every one of the seven paintings has a poem. His poems really resonate with me; they soften the intensity for me, and they are just beautiful poems.
Were there any challenges?
Painting watercolors of sailboats and fruit bowls would be much easier to move. Sometimes I just shake my head and say, "Really? Well I chose this." It's just physically heavy, and you can't stack them -- everything has so much material on the surface. There are lots of U-Hauls and lots of help. It's a little bit of a dance to move them around. Hence the reason I'm moving my studio in a couple of months and I want a ground-floor space.
What's the piece made of, and what was the process?
Baby doll parts, plastic and silk foliage, Christmas ornaments and decorations, fabric, plastic beads, discarded vintage matting and backing board, strips of metal, cord, nails, sand, gesso, house paint, acrylic and glue. I have a video; I really spend some time putting together the image, so the video helps the viewer visualize the process a lot better than I can explain it:
How does this piece resonate with you?
It's like the studio is the womb, and in it the piece feels familiar in a certain way. When you put it up in a show, it's kind of like you cut the umbilical cord. One foot in the world of the creator and one foot as an observer, because it's done and it needs to stand up on its own. I think the work is very intriguing. I can't pretend that I have very fresh eyes, but I will hang out on a Saturday, and if I look at that piece, there is so much coming out of there, pulling you in. There is something primal about red, and it's a powerful piece because of all the metaphors. Not just the metaphors for life and death and beauty, but for my own life.
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It's kind of disturbing, the metaphors for my own life in that work. There are pieces and parts that are feminine and beautiful, and they mirror pieces of me that I have let go of for a while. And I think that's why I have decided to pack up my studio for a year and live, because I think there are pieces of me that I have left behind and I need to reconnect. And that's pretty big for me.
"Your Soft Silence Is Filled With Roots," a piece in the show Blood Roses: a cycle of souls shows at Ironton Studios through February 25. For more information on the show, visit the Ironton Studios webpage. For more information about Stumpf, or to contact her, visit her webpage.