Hannah Stouffer: Wild Eleglance
- Words: Allura Dannon
Hannah Stouffer takes all the things girls are obsessed with–doodling, animals, flowers, curlicues, cute lettering, pretty colors, fancy pens, and diamonds–and turns them into sensual, elaborate watercolor-and-ink collages that are a feast for the eyes.
This 27-year-old Taurus, who recently transplanted herself from San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, likes some things that are resolutely tough as well, including snakes, monster trucks, bad girls, talons, and skulls… essentially, all the stuff good tattoos are made of.
Stouffer’s elegant style has made her a fast favorite with the fashion and advertising crowds–her designs grace packaging for Benefit cosmetics and skate decks for Blood Is the New Black, ads for Camel cigarettes and Secret deodorant and even a Ludacris and Chris Brown video (“I Know What Dem Girls Want”). Does this cause her artistic conflict? No way! Not only is her personal work every bit as accessible and flourish-filled as her commercial stuff but, like Rick Ross, every day she’s hustlin’.
We caught up with this Denver-raised spitfire in the middle of playing her Casio SK-5 and daydreaming of performing during the Ice Capades, and talked to her about wild stallions and childhood crushes.
What do you find sexy?
The classics: red lipstick, fast cars, femininity, strong character, and stronger cocktails. Color, light, and contrast. Love, lust, and gore. All of those old pulp covers and adventure books about girls, heroism, torture, and passion-. Those are perfect.
What is the last art you saw that blew your mind?
Cai Guo-Qiang at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, but I’ve only seen pictures. I think if I actually went to the show my mind would have been blown all over the walls, my face, and all the way down that huge spiraling terrace they have. There have been a few contemporary fantasy/metal painters that I’ve seen lately that make it hard to breathe.
Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
I think I remember having feelings for The Count from Sesame Street and definitely the bad guy from Rainbow Brite–I think I had a thing for villains–and of course Joey from New Kids on the Block. I don’t think I really had any movie-star crushes; I had pretty weird taste. I remember actually being scared that Superman was going to break through my window and kidnap me in the middle of the night.
Have you ever grappled with your work being identified as “feminine,” or do you see your gender as inextricable from your art?
I hate those generalizations. I guess my work is feminine but I don’t think I can help that… I really try to keep it neutral, and find a balance between the macabre viciousness and the feminine embellishment. I think that [my work] will always have that touch of elegance. I can’t help it–I wear a lot of gold.
What music do you listen to while you work?
A lot of hip-hop: Too Short, Lil Wayne, Shawty Putt, Eazy. Sometimes ’90s R&B slow jams, and some metal, like Heaven and Hell, Sabbath, Alice Cooper. I like mash-ups a lot too; either that or some type of streaming radio station, like Pandora, Thugzone, or Sactownradio.
What is your favorite pen?
Uniball Vision-Exact Micro black. And those stupid little Gelly Roll ones, the ones that make me feel like I’m eating donuts and wiping my greasy potato-chip fingers on some stained grey soft-pants.
What is your favorite animal to draw?
Snakes! My favorite thing is getting lost in the repetition of drawing something that never ends. I can work for hours on snakeskin. I really like bighorn sheep–I’ve got this childhood nostalgia for them, as well as most animals. I bring in animal skeletons and bones [to the studio] a lot and I love black panthers, carnivorous birds, and wild stallions.
A lot of your work marries organic and inorganic: trucks and lions, RVs and snakes. What intrigues you most about the opposing relationship between modernity and nature?
I consider it to be based on my upbringing, and the contrast and variance that I’ve encountered throughout my life. At the same time, I just love this distant connection, the opposition. I’ll match icons from subcultures and historical eras with elements that are totally irrelevant and examine the outcome and the feelings that develop. I’m constantly creating these stories, based on my own experiences and this endless collection of imagery and obsessions that I have built up in my head. I get overwhelmed with it all very easily, and I try to make lists categorizing everything. I’ll start out with a theme, like “Transylvania” or “Fox Hunting,” and note everything I can think of that’s relevant to that category on every level, all the way down to the sensory connections. It’s kind of insane the amount of research I do, and how deeply I feel like it’s all relevant.
How important is it to be aware of other people’s art?
I like to stay up on my contemporaries, but not too closely. It is important to know the basis of where ideas come from and what’s going on out there, though I do remain disconnected from a lot of it. I’ve found that in order to develop your own attractions and inspirations, you really have to meditate on your own self, not subconsciously drive towards things that have already been done. I think it’s tough for people to do that… There are so many things to look at these days, and it’s all so accessible.
If you weren’t making art for a living what would you be doing?
Well, I guess I could be making trouble. I think I could get pretty good at that too.
How did your parents encourage your interest in art?
My parents were very supportive when I was growing up and still are. They’re both very creative–my dad is a wildlife cinematographer and was my biggest influence. They encouraged me to pursue whatever it was that satisfied me, on a deeper level than what I think is normal. They always supported happiness rather than monetary success. I was always into art as a kid. I would get in trouble at school a lot for drawing but I managed to balance everything out and get my work done. I think I learned to delegate my time and work hard for what I wanted when I was pretty young.
What is your favorite piece of technology?
I do love my tape collection, VHS videos and VCRs, and my Cadillac. I have a beautiful DeVille–black leather, gold grill. I can’t escape that era, the late ’80’s–we made everything look so angular, bold, and beautiful. I did just get a pretty amazing Cintiq tablet; I’m not quite sure how to work it yet, but it seems like it might soon be up there with my other pieces of technology, and my Macbook.
What’s your spirit animal?
Marchesa Louisa Cassatti’s pet panther with a diamond collar.
You've got an SF phone number but an LA address. What's up with that?
I just made the move to L.A. after six years in S.F. I miss you guys, but L.A. is a good hustle. I’m just trying to get some work done. I’m just trying to get comfortable. I want both. I want it all.
How has California shaped your approach to art?
It definitely allows people to be more liberal with their thinking, more abstract. Encountering and experiencing is a huge part of what drives me, and California has a lot to offer. If it wasn’t for the weather, the beaches, the trees, the flea markets, and all you suckers I’d be totally lost.
What's one art piece/project that you'd like to do but haven't because of money, time, complexity, etc.?
A series of really big, consuming works on paper that take me months and years to produce, I’m working on getting started on those, I bought the paper- its gorgeous, now all I have to do is make something amazing… any day now…
What are some of your favorite expressions?
“Booooya grandmaaaa!!” and “real talk.”
If you could travel through time, what era in history would you visit?
Timelines of evolution and existence are my favorite things in the world! Mesozoic? Cenozoic? Are you kidding me?! Freakin’ dinosaurs! I’d be like that kid in 10,000 BC that talked to the sabertooths. The beginning of time blows my mind! Then there is the whole Early Middle ages, the Dark Ages, and the Vikings! Vikings were amazing-; they were the original warriors. The end of the Middle Ages, the whole Renaissance movement, 17th century Rome when the baroque phases were taking place!! The Victorian Era, the Regency Era, the 1800s in the UK; the wigs and embellishments! These fashions and cultures were so gorgeous…
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
The ones I’m not finished with. Whatever I did today, the most current thing I’ve done, I usually feel the best about. If I look back at it tomorrow or next week I always feel like “God, I could do better than tha.”’
What do you find technologically mind-blowing?
I’m still waiting on some real future-type stuff, like where’s my breakfast maker alarm clock outfit chooser exercise bike? iPhones are cool and all, but they’d be a lot cooler if they could do my laundry.
What advice would you give to a young artist?
Don’t stop the hustle.
If you could take back anything that happened to you in the last year, what would it be?
Take back? No refunds. No regrets.
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