Friday Interview: Meredith Stern January 21, 2011 13:30

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I interviewed local artist, Meredith Stern. Meredith's prints have been gracing our famous print wall during our annual holiday shows, and is now a part of our year round store. Read on to learn a little bit more about Meredith and the inspiration behind some of her prints. 

When did you start your handmade business?
Clay sculpture was my primary art form for many years; but while I was at art school, I met Alec “Icky” Dunn who really introduced me to printmaking; in particular, linoleum and woodblock printing. He spoke about how printmaking is inherently a more democratic medium than one of a kind sculpture; you can make dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of copies of one image. That idea really freed my art practice- I no longer had to contemplate whether I would ever be able to sell one of my ceramic pieces at the steep price it would have to be to honor the labor I spent on them. I was able to give away, trade, or sell images really affordably (the first print I ever sold was sold for 50 cents). A few years later, we met Josh MacPhee who had started a printmaking distro of radical and socially engaged prints. Josh started selling our work through his distro- Justseeds- selling through Clamour Magazine. After the magazine stopped publishing, Josh brought together Icky, about half a dozen other printmakers, and myself, to co-operatize the business he started. It's been a cooperative business since 2007, and now is 26 members strong.

Describe your studio for us.
Over the years there has been one main constant with my studio-- there is always a large desk. Sometimes it's shared space with my bed and records; other times it's been a little closet tucked away on it's own. Right now, it's a large table in a room with my printmaking supplies, a couple thousand records and my books. Often, I will DJ while I print. If you walked into my studio, you might find me jumping around dancing while trying to apply pressure onto the print.

Describe for us the process with which you make your prints.
Chaos! Some ideas are totally spontaneous, like, when I am stuck and can't figure out an idea, I might make a silly print of a cat reading a book while I try to think up the next large print. Sometimes Peter (my partner) will help turn a vague idea I have into a specific slogan. The words to the prints “Love Is The Sun” was written by him, for instance. We were going to my friends wedding, and I wanted to make them a print; so I thought of two deer facing each other, palms touching, in front of the sun. Peter had the perfect phrase to accompany that image. “Cast Your Spell” and “It's Time For Togetherness” are both slogans created by Peter and Becky Stark.

What is the mission behind the artists cooperative, Just Seeds, that you're a part of?
Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative is a decentralized network of 26 artists committed to making print and design work that reflects a radical social, environmental, and political stance. With members working from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, Justseeds operates both as a unified collaboration of similarly minded printmakers and as a loose collection of creative individuals with unique viewpoints and working methods. We believe in the transformative power of personal expression in concert with collective action. To this end, we produce collective portfolios, contribute graphics to grassroots struggles for justice, work collaboratively both in- and outside the co-op, build large sculptural installations in galleries, and wheatpaste on the streets – all while offering each other daily support as allies and friends.

Does living in Providence have an impact on your work?
Before I moved here, more of my work was black and white. I was really inspired by German Expressionist printmakers like Kathe Kollowitz. Partially, I was scared to experiment with color, but I also liked the extreme starkness that exists without color. Then in 2003 I took one semester in grad school where I started playing with color. I took a class where we had to make a print, and after we made it, the professor told us to cut it up and collage it. This was revolutionary for me; I had been making a ton of prints, and also been collaging from magazines for years, but never thought the two art practices could be joined together. I quit after just one semester, but moved here nearly a year later, and being surrounded by a ton of printmakers who were also really making beautiful and intensely colorful prints really inspired me to continue on and to keep that experimentation going. Being in graduate school no longer seemed important because here was a whole community of artists who were constantly pushing the medium; making superbly colorful work and also making three dimensional prints. Some specific inspiring examples of really pushing the boundaries of printmaking were displayed in the Pocket Change show at AS220 a few years ago- Xander Marro's printed quilt, and Jo Dery who made a really amazing small edition printed box of tea with a narrative. I also like Pippi Zornoza's wood carved signs-- they could be printed on paper, but instead, the beauty is in the carved object rather than the final print.

What advice would you offer an artist or crafter who is interested in taking their work from hobby to business?
I'm not sure that I am a very strong example of this... I have worked full time jobs for the last five years, so my art practice is still in most ways hobby- I spend more money on supplies every year than I actually make back through sales. I haven't been able to find a way to live off my art- it's still not actually technically bringing in any income, so I would love an answer myself! I am more interested in sharing the art and keeping it affordable, that I don't actually price things at the cost of labor, so I think that would technically still make my art practice a hobby.

When did you first become involved with Craftland?
Kath Connolly told me about Craftland when I first moved here; and it sounded awesome, so I applied. It's been totally magical every year. Craftland definitely helped my growth as an artist- it created an outlet for me to make cat art (which had been a guilty pleasure that I thought wouldn't have an audience). I love Craftland! It's such an amazing and friendly group of people, and the art is always completely inspiring and fun. This year one of my favorites are the stuffed monsters with the large horns.

Guilty Pleasure?
Dark Chocolate. Watching crazy videos of cats. Is that too predictable?

(Photos of Meredith taken by Peter Glantz.)