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Heather Stamenov's vibrant, all-consuming art

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Heather Stamenov in her Stutz studio. - DAN GROSSMAN
  • Dan Grossman
  • Heather Stamenov in her Stutz studio.

If you go to Primary Gallery on Friday, June 28 to hear Heather Stamenov talk about her new solo show, TA-DA!, you'll see the work of a young artist in love with the human figure. However, it's not until you get into her studio at the Stutz - she's a Stutz Resident Artist for 2012-2013 - that you'll be able to just how much energy and movement Stamenov invests in her work. Tubes of paint cluster on the floor; clumps and splatters of dried paint line the walls.

"I paint on a stretched canvas hung on the wall," Stamenov says. "If you look closely there are a lot of drips. The paint on the floor in my studio is often from using the floor as a palette - or having palettes on the floor and just getting carried away."

Looking at the large 8 by 12 foot canvas hanging outside her studio, "The Drapes Match the Carpet," you can see the drips that she's talking about. The painting's long gestural strokes convey a sense of realism, and the wildness of the composition is appropriate to the subject matter: eight scantily-clad adolescent girls on what looks like a sleepover. Here and there you see bursts of bright color. ("The pops of color are really indicative of the age of the people I'm painting," she says.)

But it's not just about flinging paint; she does quite a bit of preparation before she even picks up a brush. "Compositions start with photography," says Stamenov, who earned an MFA in painting from the University of Connecticut in 2012 and is currently adjunct professor at the Herron School of Art and Design.

Stamenov uses models - sometimes her own students at Herron - for her reference photos. "I actually print dozens of photos from the 'performance' and spread them out on the floor ripping parts of photos, looking for the gestures and expressions that I want to use," she says. "It's not precise; I usually just go for it and then sort it out on the canvas. So, no sketching. And a lot of times that means I have to add elements and change the composition as I'm working; that's something I like, that back and forth."

There's also another element that's hard to overlook in "The Drapes Match the Carpet" - these women are particularly hirsute and/or are wearing hair-suits. A historical undercurrent in this painting alludes something to the myth of the Amazon warrior. And it also refers to representations of the female nude from the Renaissance era down to the present - contemporary pornography included - which depict females as hairless save for the top of the head.

Stamenov says she's influenced by a group of feminist historians at the University of Connecticut, some of whom challenged her student work. "In all my party scenes there were all these women who were basically being violated - very sexual," she says. "I'm really interested in how people are feeling, not just representing them as objects and flesh. So how do you get past that part of representing someone just as an object? That's how the whole art history discourse came in."

In another sense, her work at Primary Gallery has less to do with art history than with what happens when a bunch of young people get together and revel in the sheer joy of being alive. For instance, the large scale painting "Happy Birthday Harmonized," which shows a group of twelve young people, male and female, singing joyfully on an air mattress floating on a river.

"It's more about the people," she says. "I really enjoy the effect that those huge paintings have on you. The piles of figures and - boom - you have so much to look at and the way they all act together. The way they come together as people."

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