Teresa Stanley was born in Los Angeles and spent her formative years in Southern California. Her parents were emigrants to this country from Australia, where her father began his career as an early pioneer in the field of radio astronomy and her mother was a teacher. Her parents instilled in her an appreciation for both the natural world and the arts, interests that resonate in her work to this day.
After receiving her B.A. in Studio Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Teresa moved north to San Francisco, receiving her M.A. from San Francisco State University and her M.F.A. from U. C. Berkeley. She subsequently relocated to Arcata, California to take a teaching job at Humboldt State University, where she taught before retiring last year.
Teresa’s mixed media abstractions, utilize acrylic, collage, silkscreen and graphite and reflect her interest in botanical forms as expressions of loss, change and transformation. Teresa has exhibited her work at Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Also, Blue Gallery in Kansas City, MO, K. Imperial Gallery in San Francisco, the SF MOMA Artist’s Gallery, the Palm Springs Desert Museum, the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek and Stellar Somerset Gallery in Palo Alto, among many others. Her work was recently featured in Manifest Gallery’s International Painting Annual. Her work is in a number of private and public collections across the country. She has been a recipient of grants from the Golden Foundation, the U.C. Art Affiliates and the HSU Foundation. She is currently represented by Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Alto, Blue Gallery in Kansas City, MO and LaFontsee Gallery in Michigan.
Teresa lives in Arcata, California with her husband, Jack and her son, Alex.
"Recently, my work has focused on the subject of flowers and houseplants. I feel that our connection as humans to the natural world is largely characterized by nostalgia and longing, leading us to obsessively fill our domestic interiors with plants. Plants are valued for their beauty but they themselves are ultimately survivors, clever at adapting to changes in their environment and most amazingly, communicating with one another through their root systems. Despite this apparent resiliency, plant species are also disappearing at an extinction rate that is 500 times faster than they would be without human influence. Some of them exist only as commercially grown products in gardening centers, their counterpoints in the wild having long vanished.
In this recent series of mixed media works on panel, I depict strange plants housed in a sheltering greenhouse, where they have been left to adapt to their artificial environment, developing unique characteristics in their quest for survival. I see these plants as reflections of our own precarious position. Will we also have to adapt to our changing environment and will the fragile natural environment we depend exist only in the realm of our imaginations?
These works on panel are made with acrylic, utilizing graphite and collage elements that have been made with hand painted paper as well as vintage maps, fabrics and paper. The work is coated with a final layer of matte acrylic, giving it a waxy appearance, much like something that is preserved."
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts.
I was born in Los Angeles and later moved to Santa Barbara. My father was a scientist and my mom was interested in the arts and I was introduced to art making at an early age. I never remember not making things and I was always the "class artist". At the same time, I had no examples of women artists to emulate (they were missing from both historical accounts and the contemporary art world at the time) and I certainly did not believe that becoming an artist was a possibility until I went to college. In fact, I had never laid a brush to canvas before taking my first art class as a college student. It was there I met a very amazing art professor by the name of Cheryl Bowers (she later changed her name to Ciel Bergman) and she showed me that it was possible to be a woman AND a powerful and ambitious artist. After graduating from U.C. Santa Barbara, I made my way up the coast to San Francisco where I went to graduate school at SF State University (M.A.) and U.C. Berkeley (M.F.A.). A few years after graduating and after teaching part-time in San Francisco, I was hired to teach painting at Humboldt State University, where I stayed until I retired last December. I have maintained an active exhibiting career despite living in a rural environment, something that has become much easier with the advent of websites and social media. With my son in college and now being retired from a full time job, I am able to devote myself completely to my studio practice.
What kind of work are you currently making?
I am making these mixed media pieces on panel, utilizing paper that I have hand painted along with scans of maps, numbers, blueprints and scientific journals. I use all manner of instruments and tools to make marks in order to achieve interesting patterns and surfaces. Working intuitively, I cut shapes and tape them to my work surface until I achieve a satisfactory result. I've often turned to collage in the past but this is the first time I've pushed it as far as I have and I'm amazed that it is really very similar to the painting process. I work intuitively, without a fixed plan in mind, which is what I did with direct painting on panel. What I love about the current process is that I am able to change my mind and not commit to anything until I am ready. This has made me bolder in every way. Once all collage piece are adhered with PVA glue, I coat the paintings with several layers of matte gel and finish them with a UV varnish for protection. They have a very waxy, encaustic appearance although they are, in fact, acrylic.
In terms of content, I have been greatly affected by several things. The state of the environment weighs heavily upon me and living in a rural area with lots of wild areas, makes me acutely aware of the impact of climate change. I am also really struck by the fact that people in general seem so obsessed with houseplants although they may not realize that there is no equivalent in the wild for many of the plants they are buying at the garden center. Finally, I read an article about a flower in China, that is much valued for its medicinal properties and is therefore hunted by humans. Scientist were amazed to report recently that the plant had actually changed color to blend with its surroundings - one of the few, if only, examples of a plant adapting to avoid human predation. These things inspired my Greenhouse series, where I depict strange plants sheltering in a greenhouse, adapting to their new environment by developing new characteristics. It brings up many issues for me: will we be able to similarly adapt? In the future will our fragile environment exist only in our imaginations or as a simulation?
What is a day like in the studio for you?
Well, there is the ideal and then there is the reality! On a really good day, I will get to the studio around mid-day, after spending the morning taking a walk, doing chores, answering emails and reading the news. I only listen to music in the studio and tend to focus on music without words as it lets my mind wander. I need some respite from the craziness of the world! Some days are about routine studio things - like gessoing panels, making new paper, mixing paint colors. I have a comfortable chair and sometimes I spend a good deal of time just looking. When I'm actively working, I completely lose myself in the process and the hours fly by. Making art for me, is about solving a puzzle. I know the answer is in there somewhere and I try and make myself work through periods of frustration by telling myself that it is all part of the process.When you break through your frustration, its the best feeling in the world. I've discovered that working about 5 hours is the best for me - any more than that, I start to distrust myself and lose perspective. Better to walk away, eat something and take a nap!
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I'm reading a few things right now. I've been reading "X + Y: a Mathematician Manifesto for Rethinking Gender" as well as a book of short stories by Wendell Berry called "Fidelity". I also just finished a trio of books by Deborah Levy that I loved: "Things I Don't Want to Know", "The Cost of Living" and "Real Estate" - her memoir of her journey to find her voice as a writer. I've really been inspired by the work of Mark Bradford, particularly his mixed media approach. I love Amy Sillman's work and find that there is such a wealth of contemporary abstraction currently being done by women artists. Recently, I saw the Joan Mitchell retrospective at the SF MOMA as well as a wonderful show by the conceptual artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. On the same trip, I saw the Judy Chicago retrospective at the DeYoung which was a revelation.
Where can we find more of your work?
My work is represented by Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Alto, CA, LaFontsee Gallery in Michigan and Blue Gallery in Kansas City. I currently have pieces up at LaFontsee Gallery and am working on some other possibilities at other venues. I try and stay active on Instagram (@teresastanleyart) and try my best keep my website current (www.teresastanley.com). I will post upcoming shows there!