Blayre Stiller ignited a lot of traffic here on Monday with our review of her work in Blair Blayre, an exhibition at Cohn Drennan Contemporary. Seems like everyone is feeling fuzzy and can't quite get her work off our minds. Since we were just staring wistfully out our office windows anyway, dreaming of her bold monochromatic drawings and confident feminine subjects, we thought we'd check in with the object of our artistic affection to learn more about the woman behind the charcoal.
A native Texan who, as the daughter of an A&M math professor, grew up predominantly in Bryan, Stiller completes her MFA next month at the University of North Texas. She graciously answered a few of our burning questions about the work we saw on Saturday night, and what we can hope for in the future.
Mixmaster: Culture Editor Jamie Laughlin and I were blown away by your show, but we both took away different feels for it. She lauded it as ''refreshing and playful," whereas I would describe it more as "defiant" and "political." I'm sure part of the challenge of putting out your work publicly includes viewers trying to assign meaning that was either unintended, or way off-mark. When you put together collections, do you hope to communicate informed political or philosophical themes, or do you prefer to leave your work more open to interpretation?
BS: I am totally excited by your different interpretations. Both are valid in my eyes. Finding out what the audience thinks provides valuable insight and ways of seeing my work that I might otherwise miss. When I'm working on something, I focus on what the piece must communicate to myself. Yet, one of the great things about being in graduate school is regular critique by instructors and peers. Through conversation and critique I learned how people other than myself interpret my work. And in my experience, different interpretations are unavoidable. Aesthetically, I like to keep it simple to clearly indicate my point of view. Ultimately, what I hope for is for an interpretation based on your own relationship with the imagery.
On the same track - I've labeled your work as "feminist," but I wonder if I've done so inaccurately. Do you consider that an appropriate description for it? Certainly, "feminist" is an appropriate term in reference to my drawings. I don't mean to imply that I give the word itself much thought in the process of developing a piece, but I am mindful of gender roles, sexuality, societal pressures, and (probably most of all) the internal personal struggles of contemporary womanhood. That said, I am not representing women as a whole as much as I am reflecting my personal experiences. Sharing something personal is the key, whether that something is unique to me or not. I'm inspired by my fears, insecurities, and anxieties which can be both paralyzing and motivating. These emotions are not unique to women, but are most certainly seen from a female perspective in my work.
Your work in Blair Blayre is part of your MFA thesis at UNT, where you hold a BFA in drawing and painting, but I see you also have a BA in interior design from Sam Houston State. When did you decide that drawing is the route you wanted to take, professionally? Do you still work in interior design?
I wanted to make drawings immediately after starting my first drawing class my junior year in college. Unsure of myself, I finished my degree in Interior Design and went to work. Over the next two years I shared studio space with two local artists and worked up the courage to leave my job (and my paycheck) behind to pursue a degree in Drawing and Painting. I worked through a second bachelor's degree to improve my portfolio and landed myself a spot in the graduate program at the University of North Texas. As for interior design, I think that by the time I actually left my job I was so frustrated that it left a bad taste in my mouth. While I enjoy good design and keep up with what is going on in the field, I no longer have the desire to do anything beyond my own space.
Can we hope for another exhibition from you this year? I would love to say "absolutely," but at the moment I don't have any commitments. Over the past few years as a grad student I have developed an intense work ethic. I intend to develop and maintain that practice. Being the new kid on the block often requires not only flexibility but also the ability to perform at a moment's notice. My job for now is to be as prepared as possible for any opportunities that may arise.
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Do you plan to stay in DFW after graduation?
My husband is currently working on his PhD at UC Berkeley and has been for the past year. I plan on joining him in the Bay Area in August of this year. I don't plan on severing my ties here though. This place (North Texas) has been good to me. The art community here has been very supportive, not to mention the community I've developed in graduate school. I plan on nurturing those relationships and giving back wherever I can.
Check out Stiller's work in Blair Blayre through May 5 at Cohn Drennan Contemporary, 1105 Dragon Street.