The mesmeric pen and ink drawings of Stephanie Howard (B.F.A. painting) portray a disquieting backwater of the American South. Populated by somnolent children, small-town Carolina Shag queens, wild animals and disorienting scenes of illusion, Stephanie’s hypnotic works blend into a folkloric mythology all her own. An exhibition of her work, “Time and Place and Eternity,” is in its final week at the SCAD Museum of Art.
SCAD: In “Time and Place and Eternity,” the majority of your works employ only pen and ink. What do you find most appealing about that medium?
STEPHANIE HOWARD: The directness of it, just putting a pen to paper, no mixing of paints or other mediums, no printing or processing. The fine-line quality of the pen also feels like thread to me, and as I work with the paper over time, it becomes more malleable, taking on more of a cloth feel. While I am working on the drawings, I think of them more as embroidery.
SCAD: Your work is propelled by labor-intensive patterns that on occasion seem to form optical illusions, as if the works themselves are moving. What do the complexity of patterns mean to you in your art?
HOWARD: In my art I am traveling through these other “worlds” as I create them, so the physical execution of the patterns helps to keep me in a sort of meditative state while I process all of the visual parts, manipulate images and put together pieces of stories. I have always loved layered patterns and I think it triggers the eye to start searching for something that makes sense, a respite of a known entity to cling to. By knowing and using that, I can act as a guide for the viewer as they move through the drawing. That movement the patterns add also creates a living quality, so that the drawing is not a document of a thing that happened, but rather a window into a moment that is forever happening.
SCAD: You’ve spent much of your life in the Greenville, South Carolina area. How does that influence the mythology found throughout your work?
HOWARD: I am from upstate South Carolina, but the stories I heard growing up came from all parts of the state. I was also always surrounded by remnants of once grand southern towns, now empty because the mill shut down or the interstate had bypassed them. This left me with some amazing bare bones, an arsenal of my own stories to tell, and a mix of some very potent magic symbols to throw in.
SCAD: If I were sitting in your studio, what would I see?
HOWARD: Collections. Records chock-full of soul! Antiques that somehow seem strange or creepy to most folks, stacks of old books, my drawing table which takes up most of the room, cats sleeping on scraps of paper, and windows that look out onto the giant water oak in my front yard. My studio is on the second floor of my house, an old mill house around 100 years old. It has character and energy — we are kindred spirits in the overwhelming need to persevere in a timeless South.
SCAD: What do you remember most fondly about your time at SCAD?
HOWARD: I had some amazing professors who helped me to not limit myself. I loved the diversity of the student body and the visiting artists. SCAD was my first opportunity to see famous artists who were in history books … and famous artists who were women! I remember Audrey Flack stopped by one of my painting classes one day and walked around looking at our work — I think I might have held my breath the entire time she was in the room.
Stephanie Howard’s “Time and Place and Eternity” is on view at the SCAD Museum of Art through June 19th.