The ship coming to shore in Stacy Lynn Waddell’s 2011 diptych, No Place Like, is definitely a metaphor—for many things. In the Raleigh artist’s world, that ship represents the way things come into being.
“It is about anticipation,” Stacy told us. “It’s about that space of being excited, being afraid, but completely open and not at the same time and as to what you’re about to experience. And so, like it’s the creative process, too. It’s oh, I’m going to make a particular thing. I’m going to use these particular materials. I do a lot of experimenting in the studio. I work with processes that aren’t necessarily traditional art processes, so I’m branding and burning paper and setting things on fire, and so there’s a space in which I understand what I’m doing and I don’t. I know where I’m going and I don’t, and so that excitement and anticipation is certainly a part of that, but at some point I have to release that anticipation or release my intellectual head and allow myself to like go to a place that I completely have no idea about, and see what’s there.”
We asked Stacy about her 2013 work on paper, Moby Dick, also part of the current exhibition Area 919: Artists in the Triangle.
“I’ve been trying to read [Moby Dick] for a long time. A friend of mine started reading important novels a couple of years ago. She said you know I’m gonna go back to that literature list from high school, and I’m going to read all of the things that I didn’t read and Moby Dick was at the top. It’s linguistically difficult to get through. I’ve been trying to read it out loud to myself, which just in many respects seems pointless since I’m usually alone when I’m reading it and I’m usually just reading it to myself, but hearing words, hearing language, is important to me, hence that letter “B” that I used in the diptych. … Moby Dick, it’s an icon. You know, I’ve just made it more of an icon by encasing it in gold leaf.”
Stacy also talked to us about the Andy Warhol reference in Moby Dick.
“He’s my brother,” she said. “He’s all of our brothers, I mean, again, any artist that’s living and working now that’s interested in dealing with American iconography and bringing that forward in any way, you’ve already stepping into Andy’s world. Now, how far you go toward that or away from that is another thing, but, I have to be indebted to that. I have to consider that. However, I’m trying to take it somewhere and make it my world too. You know, gold leaf was around pre-Warhol. Religious iconography, you know. Moby Dick is part of a religious sort of connection that we have to the written word, to literature, to that kind of passion and connectivity to like this mission. That’s what the book’s about. That’s what the American struggle’s about, you know, there was a mission, there were several missions.”
“The gold is funny because it’s not real gold leaf,” Stacy went on. “It’s composition gold leaf, so it’s fake gold, which is my way of sort of encasing an icon in this seemingly precious material. It just sort of gets at the way I like to point out that histories and ideologies don’t always hold. They really don’t always hold. Moby Dick is seen as an iconic American novel. It’s─we all read it. We all understand it. Some part of it. It’s about that very important struggle between man and nature and man and himself. But there are places in it, that there are ruptures in it. There are disconnects in the book. There are parts of that, um, grandeur that aren’t very attractive. They aren’t very beautiful. So that’s why the composition gold leaf is important, but gold,it’s reflective, you know, it’s antagonistic. Try to light that. Try to photograph that work and it’s very difficult, and that’s again, that space of tension. That material’s about beauty, conservation issues that, you know, people, guilders─it’s a very important circle to be a part of. I’m not a guilder but I sort of like to saddle up against that history, you know, because it’s about tradition and classism, and that stuff that I like to mess with.”
And what about that letter “B” in Stacy’s work?
“The ‘B’! That started like an offhand project of me sitting around in the studio one day in graduate school and making a list of words that were connected to ideas that I wanted to play around with. So the first three words were blue, boat and bird, and I thought yeah, you know, boats and ships and those things, I’ve used those things in the work, and those are quintessential Americanist symbols. The blue seemed to tie together and then I just started making more, adding more words to that list, and it began to be like a story. There was a narrative there, there was something there. And so, since that time, I’ve been adding words, one or two a month or so, to the list, and the letter itself in a script form is specific because to me and what I like to work with because it’s very classical, it’s beautiful, it’s a kind of feminized letter form, too, in that script, in that particular font, that I thought kind of referenced the sort of femininity that I think my work kind of embodies. I’m interested in beauty and decoration and sort of surface, and using that device to get people to kind of draw you in and then hopefully you stay there long enough because you love the shine of gold leaf or you’re interested in a technique that you think you might see in the work, and then you see other things that are deeper. So it’s kind of my signature.”
Find out more about Stacy’s work in Area 919: Artists in the Triangle, in this video. Portrait of Stacy Lynn Waddell by J Caldwell.