I first saw the paintings of Stephanie McGuinness at the Dayton Visual Arts Center. Stephanie was one of three artists featured in an exhibit called “The Secrets We Keep.” The other two were Ashley Jonas and Zoe Hawk.
Three of Stephanie’s works from that show appear below.
I wanted to arrange a visit to Stephanie’s studio for two reasons – I liked her work and I was fascinated by what DVAC’s Executive Director Eva Buttacavoli told me about how Stephanie uses discarded notes to fuel her painting process.
When I called Stephanie I learned that she said she lived and worked in this home in Englewood.
When Stephanie met me at the door I could see she was really painting. Sometimes when I arrive artists are dressed for a photo shoot and then pretend to paint as I photograph them. But Stephanie has young kids. Her painting time is precious, and she wasn’t going to waste it.
I asked Stephanie about her process and learned that since her college days she has been collecting discarded notes and lists she finds in public spaces. She found many of the notes in the parking lots of stores.
I asked if I could see some of the notes and she got out a large plastic container filled with scraps of paper. Some of the notes were short mundane – things like shopping lists – but some were very long and very personal. They could have been rough drafts of important letters, or maybe personal letters that were discarded by the recipient.
Stephanie reads these notes and thinks about the people who wrote them. Then she journals about the lives she imagines for those people.
Stephanie has been collecting these discarded notes since her college days. At first she painted collections of the notes, and her professors challenged her.
“They wondered what was so interesting about these notes,” Stephanie said. “Well I found them interesting. But eventually I agreed that the notes, in themselves, were not enough.”
Her current paintings come from what her found notes have led her to imagine about a family of six (three children two parents and a maternal grandmother) who share a home. Stephanie journals about their life events, thinks about how those events would impact their living space, and then creates paintings of that living space.
“A lot of my journaling about this family focuses on the relationship between the grandmother and her daughter” Stephanie said.
“Although I have been painting the interior of the home, I do have a definite idea about what the exterior looks like,” Stephanie said. “It looks like some of the old frame houses in Eaton, where I lived as I was completing my MFA at Miami University.”
Stephanie paints in her home’s dining room, which works well as long as she remembers to dodge the chandelier. With a baby and a toddler at home, Stephanie’s painting time is limited. But having her work-in-process up in the dining room helps her think about the piece even when she’s not painting.
“I used to have two or three paintings going at a time, but when my second baby came that stopped. Now I have one piece going and it typically takes me a couple of weeks to finish.”
“My two kids have one nap that overlaps, and that’s usually when I paint. Also, my Mother-in-law and my Dad are retired. They take the kids sometimes which gives me more time to paint.”
“This fence keeps my paintings and art materials safe from the two kids and the dog. The dog’s name is Keiko. I’m a big Star Trek fan, and the dog is named after Keiko O’Brien, a botanist on the U.S. Starship Enterprise.”