With trepidation, Winter is slowly beginning to thaw. At least here in the frozen North of the U.S. where I am situated. And right now, I would like nothing more than to be seated at Adrienne Stein’s table. Her paintings are lush and verdant – like a blast of fresh Spring air.
March 20th, 2017 by M. Elise Hillestad
In the vivid world of the Pennsylvania painter Adrienne Stein, flowers cascade and tables groan under a plethora of opulent fruits and decomposing Vanitas, reminiscent of the Dutch masters. The women in her compositions, many who are friends and family lovingly painted from life, gaze out at the viewer with calm, collected defiance. They are bold, unapologetic, yet soft all at once, and this is striking. All of Stein’s Lewis Carroll-esque fantasy and bacchanal is painted with the utmost attention to detail, a keen sense for accuracy and the beauty of classical form. Though her scenes have a fairy tale quality, they feel entirely believable, delectably tangible, and painted with the obvious skill of an atelier-trained pupil and master of her craft.
Stein, who received her BFA Magna cum Laude from Laguna College of Art & Design and MFA from Boston University, began her classical atelier training at the age of eleven with a head full of fantastical imagery, and dreams of future Disney animation. There were summers spent plein air painting in the Umbrian hills of Italy, and studies all over Europe and the United Stated. These days she works in her studio on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. I indulgently like to imagine Adrienne as a whip-smart Disney character quietly spending her days surrounded by heavy books, blooming plants, and candle-lit altars, perhaps with a wolf curled at her feet, turning out these magical paintings. But let’s hear about Adrienne Stein’s world from the painter herself!
M: What themes or archetypes are most important for your work?
Stein: My work is heavily populated with women, mostly women with whom I have close relationships. There is also an element of ritual presentation and feasting. I move back and forth between still life and figurative subjects. In both cases I arrange and re-interpret the models and objects to be characters in a world of my own making. They become part of a mythical drama where the characters could be saints, muses, goddesses, brides, queens, and other archetypes, and the still life set-ups become altars with symbolic objects.
M: Describe what an ideal day in the studio might look like for you.
Stein: It would begin with a cup of bold French Roast, and then an hour or two of pouring over art books in my library – just communing with the masters and combing their work for their strategies and compositional ideas. It may involve briefly writing, drawing or reflecting. Then I like to dig into whatever projects I have going – I like to have 3 or 4 paintings started simultaneously. Ideally I would move about, working on each of them like a bee pollinating flowers.
M: Which painters, sculptors, or other creators are you enjoying looking at right now?
Stein: I recently rediscovered Edwin Dickinson and am in love with his enigmatic paintings and moody palette. I’ve also been loving the illustrations of Frank Brangwyn – particularly his illustrations for “The Rubaiyat” by Omar Khayyām. His color combinations and the arrangement of shapes are masterful. They appear like tapestries. I was recently introduced to the animal sculptures of Rembrandt Bugatti. They are heartbreakingly tender and expressive without being sentimental. He exaggerates the forms so artistically without it being a gimmick. The contemporary painter Ruprecht Von Kaufman makes really strange unexpected compositions. I strive to be as bold and curious as he.
M: What drew you to painting figuratively?
Stein: Realism has always been my “mother tongue”. Since I was a child I had a natural ability to draw what I saw accurately. I always had the greatest amount of focus and mental clarity when drawing and painting from life. I began my classical training regimen at the age of 11, so realism was firmly established in my psyche by the time I matured as an artist. My first exposure to art was Disney movies and the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg. As a child I decided I would be either an animator for Walt Disney or a children’s book illustrator – but I grew up to be a different kind of visual storyteller.
M: Can you tell us about a project you’re in the midst of that excites you?
Stein: I am currently working on a series of three portraits of my two sisters and I. They are meant to hang together, but each portrait is in its own color world, corresponding to the personality of each of us. They are like “color meditations” of sorts. It’s been a great way to explore the properties and possibilities of each color when I arrange a painting around a specific color. The portraits are also loosely based on goddesses from Greek mythology.
M: And finally… If you could share a drink and conversation with any 3 painters, dead or living, who would you choose and what would be your libation?
Stein: I would love to share a Manhattan (up) and discuss all things with John William Waterhouse, Vincent Desiderio, or Hieronymous Bosch.
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