Recently, I sat down with Stephanie Carrera ’15 to talk about her artwork. An honors biology major with an honors minor in studio art, Stephanie recalled that she has always been a creative person, but also says that Swarthmore has allowed her talent to truly bloom. In her time here, she’s created paintings, drawings, and fantastical works of sculpture that draw upon her love of the natural world and her study of biology. Her handiwork is bold, confident, and incredibly lifelike; it is deeply rooted in her sense of wonder and joy. While she plans to pursue medicine once she leaves Swarthmore, her artwork is, has been, and always will be an integral part of who she is.
Deborah Krieger (DK): How did you get started making art?
Stephanie Carrera (SC): It’s been a journey. My parents instilled in me this creativity, but things really started, I think, in college, when I was able to get materials that I couldn’t necessarily afford, so that’s where things started getting really expressive, and that was really fun.
DK: You said your parents really inspired you to be creative; what do they do? Do they have creative occupations?
SC: My mom is a teacher, and she is a very visual learner, so she would write down little eyes [and other symbols] to represent [things] in her notes for class. She thought that creativity was really important to foster in me, so she put me in classes over the summer, or would buy me things that I wanted that she could get, like sketchbooks and pencils. It made me confident enough to want to pursue it, and I think a huge block for people who are artists or non-artists is fear that they’re not gonna be good enough, that they’re not gonna look good. It’s a theme that keeps going on and on: encouraging someone: “Yes, you can do this. As long as you practice hard enough, you will see something happen.” That’s the kind of support I had early on. That’s what made me confident.
DK: That’s great! What kind of art forms do you pursue here?
SC: So I had begun with pencil, but I got into the “Making Art” First Year Seminar with Logan Grider, who is one of the best professors [here at Swarthmore]. I’m taking his painting class right now. There was an incredible community that came out of that first class. [We all were in the same boat]: everything was loose and tight and awkward; [everyone was] frustrated. Nobody cared enough to feel bad about somebody else’s work. I used ink washes and mixed media, and that jump-started my artwork at Swat.
DK: So you’ve done drawing, ink washes…
SC: I’ve also done figurative sculpture. One of the studies [I did in Brian Meunier’s clay class] is a relief of a Mandarin duck on this big slab of clay. Then we did a one-to-one ratio of ourselves as busts, so I have one with this “Talk Nerdy to Me” t-shirt…(laughs). And then I did this really awesome lamp… So what I really like to do is build things. I like dynamism and movement and huge forms. So I have this really voluminous flower that has, like, seven holes in it. I really just wanted to have this motion in it and have something that made you want to think about the volume of it. And then I have that as a sort of flower, which has these big, curling leaves that echo those curves, and it’s a lamp too, so it shines brightly. I painted it with an undercoat of bright gold paint, and then I washed it with acrylics that I then rubbed off till it looked antique….It’s probably also over fifty pounds, so I don’t know what I’m going to do with it!… I like interactive things, I like functional things that are present.
DK: What other studio classes have you taken?
SC: So I’ve taken the clay class with Meunier, and right now I’m taking Acrylic Painting and Pottery, which is kicking my butt, but it’s great…. Swat has made me see so much more about art and made me appreciate things that I had thought I couldn’t. Through friends (like my “art buddy” Elizabeth Kramer [‘15]), through Logan, who’s excited about everything. [At Swat I’ve been able to] explore color, explore form, and find my niche… as well as intellectually explore why artists are so awesome and thinking of them as actual people, which is a thing that I haven’t really done before. There’s also this exploration of myself and what I really do like, in communication with myself.
DK: So why are you also honors majoring in bio?
SC: Because I love bio. If you ever ask Brian Meunier, he’d say, “Well, they’re similar because they’re both an intense observation of the natural world.” So my dad is a medical doctor, and I also want to be a doctor: I want to be M.D./Ph.D. eventually. In my home in South Texas near the Rio Grande, I live right by all these pieces of the river that have been isolated into closed watersheds, and my dad’s always like, “Hey Stephanie, look at this!” and it’s a hummingbird doing something weird, or the first fruit of the season, or these are some spiders doing something strange… always observing things, always looking at things. My mom’s told me to process things and to talk things out and explore communication, which I feel is a huge part of art, too. And so I see this merging, complexity, and diversity. I feel like I can’t appreciate art without the complexities that come with bio, and I can’t appreciate bio without understanding art.
DK: I’ve heard that’s a popular combination around here. It’s a very “liberal arts” thing. Using the same kinds of visual thinking and analytical approaches to totally different subjects, because… everything is one.
SC: Exactly. It blows my mind.
DK: Last question: What do you hope people take away from your work? What do you hope people absorb from seeing your work?
SC: I hope to break down this barrier that there’s a value of work that people cannot cross, that [idea] of “Here’s the work, this is the work, admire it, it’s inspiring.” I want have a communication with viewers in which [the work] is humble: this is the work, this is the form, it’s made by a person, it’s for people, it’s not something with a thousand-dollar price tag on it. I never want it to be. I want it to be something that’s accessible and inspires thought but not fear and intimidation. I want to be humble with my work.