An Interview with Stella Im Hultberg

by JL SchnabelPosted on

Featuring the haunting and sensual face of a luminescent apparition, Stella Im Hultberg’s newest body of work ‘Fragmented’ opens at London Miles gallery on March 11th. Pulling from her distinct multi-cultural background, her work centers on the mysterious beauty of the female allure, whether shown in curious abstractions or fully realized forms. Hi-Fructose had a chance to speak with Stella about the new directions her work has headed before she heads off to London.


 The last time we interviewed you, you talked about how identity played a large part in your work. Do you feel this is still an important theme in your new work as the title of this body of work is ‘Fragmented’?

 I do feel that identity (or identities) pull me strongly – especially dual identities or the in-between identities. I feel strongly drawn to the idea of identities that are neither here nor there, that reside in the penumbra of two worlds.Things that I’m drawn to as a “theme”, for lack of a better word, are only starting to get a little clearer to me, very slowly. It feels like the more works I make, the closer I get to what the core of that is.

What is it about hair that you are so drawn to? Many if not all of your figures appear dark headed. Especially in this show there has been a more detailed focus on the rendering of their hair, and the figures often appear veiled inside it , as if it’s cocooning them.

 For a while, this puzzled me – Hair seemed to grab so much attention, to my dismay, as I never put much thought into it, not any more than other parts of the piece. To be honest, I don’t really put much emphasis or thought into the “style” or “color” of the hair. It might have more to do with my preference for a dark mass of color (or lack of color, black) in a painting. Aesthetic preferences aside, I have only recently been giving it some thought into the metaphor of the hair. To me, hair seems to be something that grows from you yet something you have no control over.The way and the speed at which it grows, it’s like it’s got a mind of its own.Hair is a part of oneself that one wants to get away and hide from, yet something you want to hide behind.Perhaps the sprouts of thoughts and ideas (inner demons, even) that you are incapable of stopping, and only have to come to embrace… kind of like as you grow older, you have to grow to embrace even the worst burdens and shortcomings of the mind.

Can you talk a little about your choice of a medium change?

 Any changes in my works seem to come very slowly but suddenly. Which means, the ideas for to do next, be it the subject matter or the medium, grow and marinate in my head while I’m working on something, and when my next work starts, all that grew in my mind gets thrown onto it suddenly. I need some change in my works to keep me going, and I was feeling a little stuck with oils.I started drawing and painting in many sketchbook pages using various media to release the pent up energy I felt from oils, and it just naturally translated onto finished works from there.

What is a typical work -day for you like? Do you find that one work holds your attention completely before you are able to move onto the next? Or do you work on many at once?

Normally when I’m working a lot (preparing for a show, for example), I get up mid morning, go for a run, get something to eat, make coffee, then studio for several hours. Meals, bike rides or walks in between, back to the studio before bed.I have a hard time keeping a set routine, but it seems like I’ve found a groove lately.If I have a more lax schedule I do the same minus so many hours in the studio. It’s weird, because before, I used to work on many pieces at once – like 12 paintings or so. But lately I’ve felt that giving each one enough attention before moving onto the next works better for me, although I always have pieces in progress. This probably has to do with using less oils too. Oils take so long to dry that you kind of are forced to work on many pieces or have to take long, long breaks.

I’ve noticed through your blog that you are a prolific sketcher. How important are these sketches to a body of work? 

Sketches are where my subconscious flows out – kind of like an abstract diary for me. Sometimes I look through my sketchbooks and see completely different ideas that I never thought I’d had.So even when they don’t have direct links to my body of work, I feel that they do influence the works in a larger sense. Also it’s a good playground to experiment to see if something will work out or not.

 If your girls could dream, what would their dreamscapes look like? Their nightmares?

 Hmmm… I have never thought of the girls as… “alive”, as weird as that may sound.I know that many artist personifies the figures they paint. Now that I have thought about it for a bit, it seems like they themselves represent some kind of fragments of a dream, almost. Fragments of ideas. In some parts, the current series for London has something to do with the ideas of people I see in my dreams – strangers I see in my dreams, to be specific.Somehow, I can only imagine a vast darkness if I had to think of what their inner workings must be like – kind of like space or the bottom of the ocean.

What is the most prominent emotion they are feeling/embodying in your new work?

 I’m not sure – maybe each feels a different facet of the same emotion. It’s that feeling of not knowing exactly where you are, or even who you are. Which world you belong to. Maybe in a good way, where you straddle many worlds and enjoy it, and maybe in a painful, confused way.

Where do you imagine is the ideal environment for your work?

 Ideal environment for creating or showing?For creating, I dream of having something below my living quarters (as opposed to it being IN my apartment, like now), kind of like a big garage or warehouse, with light and air. But that’s a big dream for a New Yorker. For showing, I haven’t thought about this. But one day, I hope to have some really large sculptural pieces done that could be shown somewhere with tall ceilings and raw walls. I would love to do something like a site-specific installation.

What kind of images do you find most attractive when you are searching for inspiration?  

Oftentimes, I don’t get direct inspiration from other images – usually it’ll be from some kind of an idea I get from a story, book, movie, or a song. But there are definitely some images that grab me and inspire me. I seem to get drawn to images that seem a little disturbing but beautiful in that disturbing way. Something that might look even wrong, almost ugly, but something you can’t look away from.

What were some of your influences on ‘Fragmented’?

 I was mostly listening to audiobooks of “Wind-up Bird Chronicle” and “Kafka on the Shore”, both by Haruki Murakami, which turned out to be so perfect.Instead of watching something in the background, I wanted to be in some kind of dreamlike world that I often feel when I read books. So toward the last few weeks, I tried out audiobooks for the first time, being able to “read” some books I like for the second & third time.One great thing about listening to a grand story while making millions of fine lines or brush strokes is that, like an old vinyl, my memories of the stories get etched onto each line. I look at some of the folds of the hair on my new works, I can remember what was going on in the dreamlike stories at the time.

Any plans on sight seeing during your trip to London?

 I’m not much of a sight seeing person, Google Earth is good enough for monuments and landmarks! And luckily I’ve gotten that out of the way when I first visited London as a 15-year-old. Maybe a visit to the Tate will do it. Normally, when traveling I love seeing the most mundane things people do in that town. I like to just kind of blend into the background and almost imagine myself as if I lived there, except we’ll probably be walking a ton more. Probably the same deal this time, different experiences!

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