We all have different patterns
I'm living and creating in a way that is an iconoclastic reflection of the culture in which I was raised. Like many of us, my personal choices evolved to influence how and where I would one day find myself. I was fortunate enough to have spent many years with my grandfather, a true bohemian. During the Depression, he rode the trains west from Chicago, eventually settling on a piece of property on top of a mesa in what was once rural Del Mar. I loved that rural, southern California landscape; I still love it … It spoke to me at 5, influenced my quest and understanding of a very different way of being than the suburban world I was, luckily, only partially raised in.
I was 5 when I first took a train ride cross-country to California from Chicago. The memories of running barefoot through the chaparral hills while my mother yelled at me to put on shoes, because of rattlesnakes, of my grandfather yelling at hippies to put some shoes on as they walked down the sidewalks, are still fresh in my mind. It felt right, spiked my curiosity of options, inspired my choices. When I was a kid, constantly rearranging the house and painting the walls, my mom would always ask, "What are you doing? How did you get that over there?" I would move huge pieces of furniture around rooms until it felt right. It just had to feel right. I think making art, dressing somebody, making a space, we always are asking that question: "What feels right here?"
My parents were raised in lower-middle-class working families. They didn't go to college; in fact, neither of them finished high school. My dad was a Teamster, who worked in an office, a very talented man, who sculpted, photographed, and built cars, rooms, and furniture. I grew up in the garage with him, alongside all of his creative projects. My mom was a bookkeeper, an early spiritual searcher, into health foods and yoga. I think both parents sacrificed their creative selves to a large degree to work full time and support our family. My mother had a very strong influence and command in our household's finances. She always told me that I needed to be independent and know how to make a living, always stressing the importance of supporting oneself. Over and over again she would say this, so when I told my dad I wanted to leave home and go to art school, he understood that — although going against the grain — doing what felt right was very important. He had already steered me away from social work, thinking I was too sensitive for that career path. His reservations were founded in truth as it turns out. It was just so clearly art that was to be my path. Art is what felt right, and once I decided this it all started happening. So after high school I went on to a semester at a junior college and then headed west. It's tough though at times, making a move like that. There were moments when I could truly see why people just stayed where they grew up. In doing so, they are close to what they grew up with and everything they know. But for me, Chicago wasn't meant to be. I started getting inspired and I began to see the bigger picture. I was ready to move on, ready to forge ahead.
I found later, decades later actually, that my lineage was also a huge part of my essence, how I understood, interpreted, and created. I'm going back to that now with a planned photo/book project. I recently heard an interview on KCRW, one that I wish I could recall more details of. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the woman’s name. She was African American, speaking of honoring one's lineage in the creative process: "Stay with what resonates within you. Do the work that comes straight from the soul of you." She was talking about bringing personal background and lineage into one's creative process and work — working with it, instead of denying it. We need to create art that is authentic to our soul's journey. Lineage is so important. I think many of us leave it behind to redefine ourselves as we move and reinvent ourselves. I think I'm reclaiming at this point. There is an inner acknowledgement of my almost-forgotten influences. I remember my mother taking me to a weekend meditation retreat; I was 14. She had me in health food stores my whole childhood, and in yoga at 16. It's only natural I would find myself hanging out at an ashram in Hyde Park as a teenager. That spiritual thread has directed my professional and creative development. I did three years of Priestess training, which also influences the way I approach living as energetic experience: intuition, going back to things "feeling right," right as in visual, spatial, energetic. I have a dear friend in L.A., Amy Keller, who calls me the "keeper of the safe container." That's about the best acknowledgment and compliment I can imagine. For me it's very important that my interior design work creates a home that functions as a safe container, along with beauty and comfort. In a "safe container" of a home/work space I aspire to make a space that inspires its inhabitants. We all know those spaces: You walk in and your mood changes; you have a flow of ideas; the scale, colors, textures embrace you and feed you.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in painting and printmaking and a minor in dance, I moved to L.A. I lived there for 23 years, in all the best places — first in a series of five lofts downtown; then my favorite neighborhood, Silver Lake; onto Topanga Canyon; and finally Venice. When I first moved there I worked various jobs, from hand painting upholstery fabric to sales in an art supply store, to make ends meet. I was doing my photography, and large-scale hand-rubbed powder pigment drawings. I was showing my work and receiving recognition, and still always searching. There was this expansive quest always taking place, which I think came from growing up in what felt like a confining suburb on the southwest side of Chicago. I was meeting like-minded people and had many mentors, including friends that were artists themselves, many of different mediums. It was all-encompassing and endlessly inspiring. I was producing my own art and eventually got involved in styling and costume design, which would be my professional career for decades.
Moving to L.A. was one of the periods of the most personal and creative growth in my life. I am still creating from those values, experiences, and aesthetics. It was a little frightening, but that's natural when you're letting go of the past and stepping into the unknown. My creative, spiritual, and personal quest of learning is always there. California, San Diego and L.A., were the first major evolutionary jumps in my life. It was like learning, questing, learning, questing. That really changed everything.
The most influential women in my life are my mother and my daughter, Alba. When I look back, I think the biggest transformation in my life was when I conceived and gave birth to Alba. There was a very defined commitment to her from the moment I felt that magic of conception happening. It's very abstract and yet such a deep, unwavering commitment as I stepped into the unknown yet again, having to trust in the process, stay very present, and follow the thread. Alba has been my greatest teacher from the first thoughts of wanting to conceive. When my mother got dementia, I went through a profound process, where you become the mother and she becomes the child. It's something we don't talk about enough in our culture. At that time she really started to open up. For me, going back to our family lineage really helped to loosen up the patterns and stories that I struggle against all the time to be creative. I think it's important we invest in our lineage, but also that we follow the message of our own spirit and soul as well. My awareness now is that the lineage I preserve and develop will now be Alba's lineage. It's important to me to give her the richness of the past and to understand the evolution of each of our generations.
When I have moments of doubt, which we all have at times, I go to sleep and reset. I've always found sleep to be a wonderful form of self-care. You have to relax and let everything kind of settle. I think by now I know my own stuff. I know the stories that hold me back, the response patterns that self-sabotage. We all have different patterns, so how do we break that? Putting it all together and working through things is most important. Through therapy you can see, "Oh, there's another voice; there's another way of looking at it; there's another structure, another response." It's finding ways to break through. Mentors are important for that. When I observe how another responds and reacts to a given situation it can be so transformative. Obviously, choosing our mentors is critically important too.
The process of learning these years has been the evolution of recognizing my own strengths and really learning how to say no and how to say yes, even when I'm scared to death. Both can be terrifying! I have a deeper level of understanding myself and the world around me now, and it comes out for me creatively. When you change, you change your patterns, your knowledge, your understandings. It's a process, a huge lifelong process, but one you have to be willing to take on to really see any changes.
I think, looking back, I have been strong my whole life, more than I ever gave myself credit for. I see it now.
Stella is a photographer, fine artist, stylist, and interior designer specializing in creating bespoke interiors. With a background in fine art, costume deign, and styling, she bridges art and the environment by approaching living spaces as a painting. She currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexicao, but serves clients from Montana, the west coast, to the southwest. Read more about Stella's work here.