Featured Artist/Traveler: Stacey Steers - Filmmaker of Dreams
Stacey Steers’ films are strange and magical worlds that she creates from thousands of handmade works on paper - collages and individually-painted drawings. Each film takes several years of painstakingly labor-intensive and intuitive art making. Typically she makes eight distinct, unique images for every second of animation. Over time, these images become a formal record of an ongoing and obsessive engagement with an original idea, through all its transformations.
Steers’ animated short films have been screened widely throughout the U.S. and abroad, and have received numerous awards. Her films have been included in the Sundance FF, Telluride FF, New Directors New Films (New York), Rotterdam IFF, Locarno IFF and screened at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), and MoMA.
Recently Steers has expanded her work to include collaborative installations that join invented, three-dimensional production elements with film loops, creating a new context for experiencing her films. Steers’ installation work has been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery, (Washington, D.C.), the Denver Art Museum, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany, among other venues and has been collected widely.
She is also a recipient of major grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, Creative Capital and the American Film Institute and was the focus of a major retrospective at the 2015 Annecy Festival of Animation in Annecy, France and received the Brakhage Vision Award at the 2012 Denver IFF. She lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.
Hi Stacey, can you tell us a bit about your background and how your upbringing impacted the work that you do now. Were you encouraged to pursue your art, did you go to art school etc?
I was born in Denver, CO and grew up in Golden. My mother was very artistic and there was a lot of making decorations and doing all kinds of handwork in my childhood. My mother always encouraged my creative longings.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist, and how did it first show up for you?
I was always happy in art class and I got a lot of support from teachers. I decided to study animation in my mid-20’s after living in Latin America for 7 years and returning to the U.S. from a failed marriage with a daughter.
Your handmade animated films are so distinctive. Can you tell us a bit more about your process?
These films take me a very long time to create, typically 4-5 years. The investment is enormous and I need to feel a deep sense of alignment with the process of creating them. I drew films by hand on paper for about 15 years.
After I completed my film Totem in 1999 I experienced a kind of artistic crisis. I lost confidence in my approach and my drawing style and its ability to speak to the ideas that had started to excite me. Animation is a very expressive medium, and I moved away from drawing because I found the particular expressive quality of my style too confining. I was interested in working with a more neutral image, something less directly my own. I decided to draw from the long tradition of collage animation.
My technique is unusual because I create 8 collages for each second of screen time rather than moving paper directly under the camera which is the normal technique. I find I can get much more detail in this way, and I like the ideas I have while working with scissors and glue. Since I work organically and don't plan films in advance, this is very important.
And how would you describe your general approach on art making?
As I mentioned I do work intuitively and I find that sort of thinking and process very satisfying. I try to create work that follows a certain emotional trajectory and has a psychological aspect motivated by internal reflection.
You have received several prestigious awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship and Creative Capital Grants. How did these come about?
I applied for them after many years of working and creating a presence in the world of experimental filmmakers.
How does travel factor into your creative life? I know you have been to several artist residencies - Sacatar in Brazil, Brush Creek in Wyoming, and the Macdowell Colony. What has been your experience?
Personally, I find residencies very motivating artistically for me. I need long swaths of time on my own to explore and access a certain type of internal reflection and play with ideas.
What pros and cons of being an artist in residence would you like to share with us?
I suppose you have to be very committed to your craft and want to spend a lot of time alone pursuing your work. You do meet wonderful people, but you see them mostly at meals.
How does travel change the way you create your art?
The focal point of my work grew out of my time as a young adult in Latin America. Things I discovered there still animate my choices.
Your process is so labor intensive and can take years to complete, how do you stay focused and keep going? You must have a very strong ability to follow through on your ideas without getting distracted!
Animation is a special art form. Everyday there is something that happens that is not visible on the paper. It occurs between the images when they are projected at 24 frames per second. For me it is a little bit of magic and I find it very satisfying.
You had a fabulous solo show at the Robischon Gallery in Denver a few years ago that included your projected films as well as installations etc. How have you been inspired to go beyond the film frame into 3D work and environments?
Through working with galleries I have come to realize that they really like objects, and since I have had ideas for incorporating screens into objects that reflect on my films, I have pursued those. I also have a wonderful fine woodworker who is a close friend and participates in the design process.
What’s coming up next for you, and how might people have the opportunity to see your films in person?
I have a show at MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver) on the lower level in September 2019, and another show at BMoCA (Boulder Museum of Contemporay Art) that will be fairly comprehensive in January 2020.