We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Cobb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, how do you think about risk?
Risk is required for both the painter and the model. The model is asked to patiently be observed and the painter aims to capture a truth about them.
There is a profound disconnect between the figures in ‘The Garden’. An extraordinary silence seems to enwrap them radiating through their postures and the painting’s color palette. The two men appear isolated, vulnerable, and unapproachable. Each is enclosed in his own solitude, even though sitting next to each other. The plant forms spill into the foreground of the composition, springing up vertically on the right of the image and streaming out horizontally across the figures. All of the elements wrap and flow into the next to form in a continual flicker of movement, revolving around the young men quietly seated. The profile of the figure on the right becomes the focus the painting, as if the scene was his vision. The figure seated on the bench is seen in shadow. He conceals one foot behind the other, hinting at innocence or vulnerability.
Sometimes, a friend with whom you share a history has experienced those events differently. Their assumption that having had the same experience makes you the same can create distance or disapproval. Feeling more isolated can also result if others display, or seem to seek, evidence that they are not going through the same experience as the other. When the models posed for me, they had resolved an argument before I arrived, but the tension lingered. Both were hurt by the other and they each felt alienated. As they posed, they asked each other some questions in attempts to understand what the other was feeling, but these questions were also designed to deflect further hurt. Questions like “are you still angry with me?” sounded like attempts to reassure themselves that could be translated to “I am different from you so you are alone in the way you feel”.
Sameness could be an explanation for why they are close, but so could difference. When a problem arises in a relationship, differences can give each person a greater understanding and appreciation for the other. As friends or partners negotiate and evaluate the ways they are the same, they inevitably also are measuring ways that they feel equal and ways they fear they don’t measure up.
Distance between the two men is felt, but a level of trust toward me as the artist existed too. Being a voyeur to this intimate moment allowed me to reflect on my own similar experiences and memories. They allowed me to observe them and to translate what appeared to be a vulnerable truth of their humanity. Both desire to have support from the other, but in their posture lingers a resistance to accommodate the other’s wounded pride. Their interaction hints at the longing for reconnection to take them from feelings of isolation.
Relationships of any kind require a back-and-forth, a continual negotiation and renegotiation, of sameness and difference. The two men had already recognized an emotional need for each other prior to this conflict which enabled them to reconcile while they posed for me. Instead of being angry with each other, each eventually expressed his love and fear of the other being hurt as they modeled for me. Reconciliation born from respect produces the sweetest reward and causes distance to dissolve.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I recently received my M.F.A in studio art at LSU College of Art + Design and I received a B.F.A. in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design. I have focused my professional experience in museums, nonprofit organizations, and teaching experience in the art and science fields.
Currently, I am working as the Program and Exhibits Specialist at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, in Solomons, Maryland. As the exhibits lead, I develop themes for exhibitions, work with jurors, and curate Annmarie’s galleries in the Murray Arts Building. I am also working closely with the Smithsonian sculpture collection and outdoor installations. Most of our sculptures are on loan from the Hirshhorn and National Gallery. It’s a hidden treasure!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I might be a little biased when I say Annmarie Sculpture Garden is where it’s at in Southern Maryland. Perfect place to walk your dog, have a coffee with a friend, and chat about art and sculpture. There are some lovely beaches and national parks around the Chesapeake Bay where you can see wild horses that live on islands. Solomons Island is beautiful, full of restaurants on the marina, and the Tiki Bar is not to be missed.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I thank the friends that I made in Baton Rouge, specifically Brianna Carney, Rami Alkadi, Caleb Gridley, Jake LaGasse, Christy Liffmann, Samantha Combs, and Katie Kearns, who indulged me with repeated model sessions. They allowed be more selective with my models by sacrificing their time, even during a global health crisis.
Image credit for gallery installation photo and for The Habit of Being – Charlie Champagne. Image credit for The Garden and Emma – Caleb Gridley.