Painting Janeth (Lamentations)
 2012, Oil on Canvas, 36”x48”

Stephanie Gamarra’s paintings carry the aesthetic of the Amazon. Primal, subtle, glorious, gorgeous, doused in leafy greens and stark blues. Her work depicts illness vividly; a woman, hands bleeding into her background, staring out of frame, mouth set flat. Stephanie’s paintings are tangible, the texture ripe and thick, composed of masterful strokes that defy precedent. Mostly, Stephanie’s work is alive and it intends to stay that way.

Yasmin Belkhyr, EIC: So at WTR, our interviews always begin with a question from our last interviewee. Haylee Ann, a photographer, left this for you: "What do you want to be remembered by?"

Stephanie Gamarra, artist: I suppose I want to be remembered by my spirit. What I produce in terms of artwork are all originated from personal narratives I have with loved ones. It really is a therapeutic practice for me.I think if you knew me, as more than just an artist, you'd see how I love conversations, talking to new people and really just picking their brain on their views on about anything. My work is mostly about conversations I have with my mother.

YB: What are the reactions from the people you portray in your work once/if they see the finished product?

SG: I love this question because it's the 'ah-ha' moment I share with my mother. To back track a little bit, my figurative work is of my mother through her history of ill health. I would paint her in part of a 'tough love' series to talk about her malnourishment and she would happily pose for me. Actually it was a family affair where my father would hold my desk lamp to give me some proper lighting!

Anyways, seeing the photos I would develop from the shoot was too real for her. But seeing my paintings probably took a more emotional toll on her. Not one of my paintings hang in our home in Miami.

YB: Did you always make art? Did you ever consider a different profession?

SG: Maybe for a year or two I wanted to be a pro soccer player like Brandi Chastain as a result of my two older brothers, haha.  But I always knew I wanted to pursue a life in the arts at a young age.

YB: Do you think there was ever a really defining moment for you, as an artist?

SG: I graduated from Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH) in Miami where the arts played a major role in those developing years, so I was exposed to amazing visual artists and designers with galleries scattered around. But the defining moment was when I was involved with YoungArts and they flew me out to New York City where I was involved in a group exhibition with artists from across the States. It was unreal. That experience was probably the reason why I moved to New York City.

YB: Do you think the art movement in NYC is different from the art movement in Miami?

SG: Very. Miami is growing faster than ever and I regret not being more involved with the community that's forming in the Design District and Wynwood. To be honest, I feel a little lost in NYC in that I have no idea whats currently 'trending' in the arts, but that's also what I like about it. Inspiration can be drawn from so many things.

YB: As a NYC native, I definitely agree with the lost part! What's your favorite part of the city?

SG: If you're a native, you know how difficult that question is! This sense of mobility. You lock the door behind you and walk a few steps down your stoop and you already feel late.

Like, there is something you should have done 5 minutes ago or there's a place that needs exploring, get to it!  I realize that can sound horrible and maybe even stressful but It gives me a sense of encouragement

YB: Same! I feel like NYC really doesn't wait for anyone. I can be on the subway, writing an essay for class, eating lunch and making plans with a friend all at the same time, and that's just normal. It's a very intense atmosphere. Can you tell me a little more about YoungArts and what happened when they flew you out to NYC?

SG: Intense in a very magical way, haha. Or maybe I'm too much of a romantic!

Young Arts is a prestigious talent based program that selects young emerging artists to participate in week long workshops held by professional in your field. Among the many disciplines they scout for, I was chosen to as a Visual Arts finalist in 2010.   

The first week was held in Miami during the fall and then the group of finalists get narrowed down and are flied out to NYC during the spring to not only experience timely workshops with even more inspiring professionals but to collaborate cross genre and by the end of the week produce a show at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for ideally hundreds of viewers. I was paired up with three wonderful dancers and jazz musicians.

I being the only visual artists in my group created what intentionally was suppose to be a 8x10' backdrop painting, but Young Arts and the other creatives in my group really incorporated it into their routine nicely. It was a proud moment for 17 year old me, haha.

YB: That's wonderful! I also participated in the week long intensive in Miami as well as the week in NYC, and I think it was a really validating experience. Do you think artistic skill is something that is inherent in some people, or can be manufactured through hard work?

SG: We're all born curious. Having an artistic skill that is traditional as painting or drawing can most certainly be developed through time and practice. But it's the ideas and exploration I personally am more interested in with art and not every artist has that.

YB: How did you come up with the titles "Slaughtered by James Elkins" and "Painting Janeth (Lamentation)"? How do they relate to the pieces?

SG: Painting Janeth (Lamentation) is a piece created in 2012 when my mother was under chemotherapy for liver cancer.That moment was the second time she had to go through chemotherapy and she was more distant than ever. Locked away in her room, laying in the dark was becoming more of a reality to who she was and being the youngest and only daughter, it felt very odd standing over her helpless body. I decided to insert her name in the title to communicate that sense of distance I was experiencing. And in case you're wondering, she's healthier and doing well but doesn't like to dwell on the past. Which might explain the painting being held in my studio and not hung up in the living room.

And then Slaughtered by James Elkins is a much lighter and what I consider to be a funny story.This painting is from a new body of work known as the Moss Series and by the time I completed this painting James was giving a lecture at my local college in Miami where afterwards he was also giving reviews and this was the perfect opportunity to have a fresh pair of eyes. At this point all I knew was that he was an art historian and he takes a look at this painting (among others), and says the piece was confusing, indecisive and that I was prematurely applying these colors onto the canvas.

Now, I've received bad criticism before, this is nothing new to me and I actually encourage this sort of response, because it gives me something to consider. Essentially, I shook it off.  It was until the next day I'm calling my friend from Pratt who's in the art history field and once I mentioned the name James Elkins, did I find out how big of a deal it was! He's written books titled "What Painting Is" and "Why Art Cannot Be Taught", all books my professors have read as How To's. He's a professor at SAIC, an art critic, and writes for the Huffington Post amongst many other accomplishments.  So then I decided to dedicate the title to him .

YB: Ha! In response to that story: it's very easy to get feedback on a piece of writing and edit it. Is it easy to edit a painting or other visual art?

SG: Aesthetically it's easy to change something and the difficulty is how to turn it into a successful piece. However conceptually I never change or edit my work. If it's a failure in my eyes, the next one would just have to be a different approach.

YB: What would you do if you didn't make art?

SG: I cannot imagine doing anything else. I will always seek for something in the arts.

YB: Excellent! So to end this interview, can you leave a question for our next interviewee to answer?

SG: Sure!  If given the opportunity to express yourself or what your work is about in a different medium, would you and what medium would it be?


To see more of Stephanie's work, check out her Bluecanvas here, and be on the look out for Volume Three of Winter Tangerine Review, out this summer!