In honor of Women’s History Month, Great Parks is celebrating eight local woman artists who find creative inspiration from the natural world around them.
Meet Stephanie Berrie
Stephanie Berrie is a printmaker, multi-media artist, and professor at University of Cincinnati. Her artwork explores themes of death, life, and the relationship between the grotesque and the beautiful, often blurring the line between the two. She is fascinated by the microscopic details of the veins of leaves and the barbs of feathers.
The views and opinions expressed in the interview are those of the artist and do not represent the views or positions of Great Parks.
Great Parks: Can you talk about your origin story as an artist and how you came to working in the mediums you work in?
Stephanie Berrie: The origin story of me being an artist is … I’ve always been doing art! Ever since I was a little kid. I’ve always been drawing, painting. I would make paper sculptures, I would draw all the time, and in high school I was really into acrylic painting. For undergrad, I ended up going to the Columbus College of Art and Design. And I started off by studying painting there, but then I took a printmaking class my freshman year, and I was like “Aw yeah! Printmaking is cool. I really like printmaking.” So, from there on out I had spent most of those four years studying print and taking all the print classes that I could and really being immersed in the world of printmaking. And I think about my junior or senior year was when I got really serious about printmaking and started entering into shows and started being a part of the printmaking community and going to conferences and all of that fun stuff.
GP: Why do you like printmaking so much?
SB: I don’t know. It was cool just because you could have a drawing or something like that, and you could reinterpret that drawing, and you could put it on a woodblock, and you carve it out and it turns into something completely different from the original drawing. It sometimes blows my mind. You can print multiples of that same thing, reinterpret that imagery so many different times. You can print it in different colors, on different papers. So, I think I honestly fell in love with the process. I felt like it was harder than just making a drawing or a painting, and it made me think a little bit and made me take my time with the medium, and I think that’s what really drew me in.
GP: Looking at your work, with the series of prints called the Roadkill Diaries, for example, if you look very closely, many of those prints depict somewhat unsettling imagery, but then the color palette and composition you use tends to be elegant and soft. There’s this play between those two things, a tension. And I was wondering if you could speak about that.
SB: I’ve always been into the play of the grotesque versus the beautiful and the beauty that comes from grotesque things. And a lot of my work over the past couple years prior to the Roadkill Diaries was kind of questioning having a body. We experience other people’s bodies externally. Like we see everybody at skin surface and at skin level. But underneath, there are all of these things that are functioning that are all doing weird and disgusting things. It’s not as acknowledged or some of it is socially taboo, and I think that’s kind of stupid cause we all have bodies, and they just do whatever and that’s that. So, a lot of those paintings were kind of based on my experience of having a body and the things that it does outside of my control and playing with making those kinds of grotesque things beautiful in a sense. Playing with the fine line work or playing with the colors and making it look like it’s something that you want to look at, but then if you look closer, you’re like “Oh! That’s really odd.”
GP: How has nature influenced your creative process?
SB: I’ve always been inspired by nature and the environment that my body is in. And that will always come back into play regardless of where I am in life or where I am as far as location goes. So, I’ll bring in plants or animals or feathers or bits of animals. I was using a lot of plant imagery in my work just because I would make these sculptures out of fruits, and I would smash them up and those would be my guts, and I would use that as reference photos for the paintings and prints and stuff. And it just felt like I felt myself through these other, different things. I felt like a dissociation of some sort. Where it’s like, this is an extension of how I feel internally. Bringing that into the piece. It’s kind of hard to explain, I guess.
GP: I’m following you.
SB: And with the Roadkill Diaries, that started as a series of work that I started in 2020 cause, you know, everybody was bored. I would just walk around my neighborhood cause I live in an apartment complex that is right next to the cemetery, which is really cool and nobody really goes over there. I would find dead animals on the side of the road, and I would take pictures of the ones that I thought were particularly interesting looking and just sort of make up little stories in my head about them. I came to think about how our actions affect other things, whether those actions are large-scale actions or small-scale actions. With the roadkill, for example, you run over a rabbit with your car, and most people don’t even turn to look back at it. They’re just like “Oh! Ran over a rabbit!” But you took something else’s life. So, then I was just thinking about how my actions affect other things whether or not they affect me and whether or not I care about them. And of course, I like abstracting the imagery and making it a little bit… not so easy for you to figure out. Because I like subtlety and secrets in my work, and I like having people look at it and think about it and spend time with it, so I’m not gonna give it all away in just one go.
GP: What are some recurring images or motifs from nature that you find yourself returning to in your work?
SB: I love birds, and I love frogs. That’s been recent. Lots of birds and lots of frogs. Frogs are great. The birds especially, I love. I was using the feathers, like printing the actual feathers, versus drawing the feathers, versus etching the feathers. And there’s so much detail to birds in general and all the different types of birds. The majority of the animals I would find [in the cemetery] would be birds: baby birds falling out of nests or birds being attacked or birds getting hit by cars. But I love birds! And plants too. Lots of different plants. I like vines. I like leaves, petals, plant shapes, carnivorous plants. I’m playing around a lot with carnivorous, alien-esque looking plants right now, which is fun. I’m trying to make a little fly trap thing. Like I’ll screen print the drawing and then make it out of paper.
GP: What is it that draws you to these things? Is it purely aesthetic? Is it more than that?
SB: I mean, I like the aesthetics of them for sure. I’m trying to learn more about different types of plants and different types of birds and how they interact. I mean, I’m not a naturalist or a scientist by any means. I think some of that can be a little intimidating cause I have some friends who are ecologists, and they are like, all science-y and all that. And I’m like “I just like birds that are cool, man.” But I do my own research on different birds, like crows. And I like vultures, and I like other raptors, like hawks. I like learning about cardinals and blue jays. A lot of it is the aesthetic, and a lot of it is the animals that I find around me, and a lot of it is just existing in the environment, if that makes sense. So, when I lived in Lubbock, Texas, which is up in the panhandle, I found that a lot of my imagery had changed and had been more muted colors and dull colors cause there’s a lot of brown up there. The plant imagery up there was a lot of yucca, and just a lot of yellow dead stuff. So, I find that the imagery just comes from whatever environment I’m immersed in and sort of living in. I think just having a natural curiosity for living in an environment is where that stuff comes from.
GP: Is walking in nature a big part of how you gather ideas?
SB: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I like walking through nature. One hundred percent. Spring is definitely my favorite season. Walking in nature is so important. I love just zoning out and just walking through the woods or walking through the trails or wherever. I’m not a huge hiker or anything, but I do love going outside and just spacing out and looking at different things. It’s kind of like how when you go outside and you look at something, but then you can go look at the same thing again and find something else to look at. I really like that. So, I find that that’s where I find a lot of my inspiration.
GP: What else do you do when you’re feeling like you need extra inspiration?
SB: Sometimes I read spooky stories, scary stuff like that. Walking outside is really where I find stuff. I might look at other artists. See what my friends are doing. Sometimes it just doesn’t come, and sometimes you’re in this creative zone where you’re like “Yes! Everything makes sense, and this is great!” And then it wears off. But I also just find inspiration in the medium itself because I feel like there’s so many things to learn in printmaking.
GP: What are your thoughts on humans and our relationship to nature?
SB: I think that honestly, we are more connected to our environment than some people like to think. Also, in regard to having a body, you know how people don’t wanna acknowledge we have grotesque things that happen in our body? I think that same way about the environment. Like people do stuff, like we consume things, we make things, exist in this environment. But we also don’t want to acknowledge that there are other living things that live in that environment as well. For instance, you have a house, right? And a spider comes into your house, and you’re freaking out cause you’re like “Oh my gosh! There shouldn’t be a spider in my house!” But honestly, your house is in the woods where the spider would be anyways so really, there should be a spider in your house.
I fall into that too where I don’t take into account my surroundings. But it was nice being in quarantine because every day you would just see more blooms on the trees or more leaves popping up, and it’s like, I never get to notice this when I’m busy doing my life things, and I feel like a lot of people are like that. So, it’s just taking the time and taking the care to look at things that are unnoticed. Things that are integral to our lives. They are very important to our lives! We need all these things to exist, and yet we think that we don’t. We need the trees! We need the flowers! We need all of this!
Stephanie Berrie is one of the local artists whose artwork will be on display at Instinct: Woman-Made, Nature-Inspired, a nature-themed art show happening March 31 and April 1, 2023 at Fernbank Park.
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest