Don't be lulled into ascribing a false sense of naiveté to Stephanie Hargrave. Yes, she is young - not yet 40 - and will be celebrating her first-ever solo show this month. Born, bred and raised in Kirkland schools, Hargrave exudes a gentility that is coated by a sense of purpose and fierce dedication to ferreting out her true artistic core.
Her "aha"? Painting with beeswax.
Hargrave dates her artistic beginnings to college at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, where she majored in creative writing and minored in studio art. At age 19, she began attending art walks. "I've been quietly studying other people's artwork," she says. "I've been studying artists before I was one."
Color and texture fascinated her - and in 1997 she opened and ran a ceramics studio in Pioneer Square for several years. She created and sold functional ceramics, including cups, saucers and flatware nationally as well as locally. She tested other waters, too, including metal, oils and acrylics. Eventually she swapped it all for painting, which she declares her true love.
Wax painting is 'aha'
"I feel kind of relieved because I finally finally, finally found out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Hargrave says. "Through all those trials, trying different mediums, I came to the medium of wax as a painting medium."
Hargrave's encaustic paintings are influenced by the architecture of natural structures: pods, seeds, buds, blooms, olives and spines. She finds a simple correlation between subject matter and materials, as beeswax, resin and pigments are heated, layered and fused with a torch. The use of heat in each medium is at once similar but dichotomous: clay is fired in a kiln; beeswax is fired with a torch.
Her first thought was to add beeswax to clay but got into 2D art form and then "getting the revolution" to painting. "Each painting is a problem - a good problem - to be solved, but has to go through all these different phases of how it gets solved," she says.
The artist found the transformation from ceramics to beeswax seamless because of the carving involved. "It's real physical. It's like building a painting instead of painting a painting," she says.
So Hargrave layers beeswax and feeds previous layers into current layers and adds "luminous transparency. It makes it chunkier and more physical," she says.
She often burnishes graphite drawings on paper into the wax to add texture and subtle accents. Much of the line work is created by inlaying pigmented wax into carved lines. In her artist statement, she says, "I try to create work that has a design element, but also looks 'grown.'"
Speaking of design, the Lake Washington High School graduate and her mother also own a small new- and used-clothing shop in West Seattle, where the artist now resides. The mother-daughter venture, "Smallclothes," was started a year and a half ago and features gifts, new clothing and high-end resale items. "My mom is very artistic. We buy all the good stuff," she laughs. "We sell new organic cotton clothing and new shoes. The good prices are based on the idea of recycling."
Hargrave has been honing her skills at Pratt Fine Arts Center and for the past six years has focused exclusively on encaustics. She loves to breathe in the smells of the materials involved and is also grateful for the unconditional support from her boyfriend. She's been featured in the Patricia Rovzar Gallery since November, after Rovzar discovered her through commissioned work she did for an old hotel in Seattle. The following month, Rovzar added her to a group show. Hargrave clearly is grateful for this breakthrough opportunity. To top it all off, the artist was featured in a book last year.
She sums it up succinctly: "It's a good life, being an artist."
Stephanie Hargrave will be exhibiting at Patricia Rovzar Gallery, 118 Central Way, 889-4627, Oct. 12-Nov. 6. The artist reception is Oct. 12, 6-9 p.m.