Baton Rouge Arts Council Artist(s) to Watch: H-D Art—Stephanie Huye & Alaine DiBenedetto
Extrovert & Hermit
Visual Artists Stephanie Huye and Alaine DiBenedetto came together in their medium in the shared experience of the studio at Louisiana State University. As women who’ve lived some life, and firm in their perception of self, their return to the university setting was one that was unique from their studio mates (often the fresh from high school crowd). As their friendship grew, so did their practice. Now out of the college studio and out in a space of their own they have developed a ritual and ongoing body of work that explores how people connect to each other and their surroundings. We were fortunate to have some time to sit and talk with them about their work and the plans for the future in the Artist(s) to Watch Blog.
How did the two of you come to painting as your chosen medium?
SH: To me, painting in oil on handmade canvas is the best way to pay homage to the time-honored medium of the world’s most renown painters. Using the best materials available satisfies me that I am creating pieces that are of the highest quality, which also guarantees their longevity. They will remain exactly as I painted them decades from now. Buyers who know quality art have an appreciation for the details: the canvas materials, the presentation, and the overall quality of what they are buying, and I strive to give them the best painting possible.
AD: Oil is the most versatile medium in terms of texture, application, color range, and mark-making.
What lead to the shared studio space and practice?
SH: We met while pursuing our BFA’s at L.S.U. and eventually shared studio spaces during that time. Both of us are very driven and know our own voices. We are narrative, “degenerate artists” with clear visions of what we want to say in each painting. After graduation, I added a studio to my home, and invited Alaine to share it with me. I am in the process of moving to New Orleans, where the new outdoor studio has already been built. Over the years we have developed a daily practice where we start off the day with a processing session (caffeine, cigars, and critiques) on our current pieces. Since we know the other so well, we trust the other’s suggestions and advice. Although we are extremely different, we both believe every artist needs someone to bounce ideas off, and for directional checks & balances to make sure the painting is true to narrative and voice. I am methodical and neat, and keep my brushes & paints orderly. My partner…not s’much. She paints with sticks, sponges, and crusty brushes that sit in “sludge” (old oil and turp mixtures). Whose side of the studio is whose is quite obvious!
AD: From L.S.U. to Stephanie’s generous offer to share her studio.
Can you tell us about the current project you're working on? How did that conversation even get started?
SH: Our current collaborative series came from our shared desire to explore and understand other cultures. How alike are we? How different? What universal truths do we all hold? These questions and answers are the genesis of our “Shoes and Chair” series. In this series I tell the stories of ten Louisianans, a diverse group of creative people selected for their beauty, uniqueness, and individuality. We then decided we wanted to visit Cuba and continue the series with people with the same qualities found in Louisiana, but that represent the many faces and cultures of the Cubans—the beautiful, humble, wonderful people of Cuba!
Shoes have always been important to me, even as far back as the day I purchased a special pair with saved babysitting money. Over time, shoes have come to stand for many things, and are a common item almost all people own. The difference being that there is a certain amount of choice in making or purchasing shoes (or “skin”), whereas people have no choice over their bodily skin. Therefore, shoes are the object I choose to portray people. I include their heritage, personality, life path, and individual story. Where has the person been? Where are they going? A hundred different details in each portrait that one only has to look closely to see. Alaine and her identical twin shared a secret language, and this coupled with the fact that she isn’t very social, developed into her painting voice being silent. She uses symbolic language full of codes and hidden text, and her portraits of each person posed in the same chair, describe what they represent to her. Characteristics plainly seen, and the ones she assigns them.
AD: Currently I am working on three-piece poetry abstracts.
How do you choose people to act as your subjects in this series?
SH: I look for the uniqueness of each person, and what they might say to the viewer. Qualities that grab my attention are: creativity, diversity, free-spiritedness, and people with easily read or strong representations.
AD: I choose people intuitively or for the strong statement their appearance makes to me.
How important is it to you that the viewer knows about the subject's story?
SH: As a former math teacher, I have the strongest desire to educate others, not only about my paintings, but also the world of art in general. I believe the more someone knows about a painting and the subject, the more they are attracted to it. What the artist is saying is crucial to making that connection. The more people understand what I am saying, the more my paintings can effect a change in the world. My goal is for all people to realize that no matter how different our outer “skins” are, we are all basically the same. And this realization can break down the walls separating human from human.
AD: It’s not in the least bit important. If the viewer enjoys a painting—connects with it, that’s what matters, not my symbols or narrative.
Where do you see this series leading in the next year or so?
SH: Possible plans include a series on the wonderfully eclectic people in New Orleans, a return trip to Cuba, where we will meet with the artists we worked with and those who posed for us. We’re planning to bring them giclee prints of their portraits. We also want to explore our own Sicilian, Native American, and Irish heritages and continue the Shoes and Chair Series. Immediate plans are to set up the New Orleans’ studio and get to work there, with the addition of clay & wheel creations—an excitingly different series we came up with during our residency in Kentucky this past October.
Where can people see your work online and in person?
SH: The best way to see our work is on our website: https://h-dart.com/ where the Cuban Chair and Shoe Series will be added soon. Facebook: H-D Art. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/HDArt777/ . We also show our work by appointment (in New Orleans), since we’re not scheduling shows until settled in the Big Easy.