Brenda Stumpf and Nicole Capozzi interviewed by Sally Deskins

Brenda Stumpf.  Courtesy of the artist.

Brenda Stumpf. Courtesy of the artist.

Denver based artist Brenda Stumpf is represented by Pittsburgh’s Box Heart Gallery and collaborates with Pittsburgh-based artist Josh Hogan. She was recently interviewed by Sally Deskins of Les Femmes Folles, a feminist-arts blog, who shares Pittsburgh-related interviews with Pittsburgh Articulate, about the array of opportunities for artists in Pittsburgh, her ancient inspirations, her project with Josh Hogan, feminism in her work, and more. Additionally, Box Heart Gallery Owner and Director Nicole Capozzi shares her insight about draws and limitations of Pittsburgh for artists, and how Pittsburgh might bring in more artists to the area.

Sally Deskins: What do you think of the Pittsburgh art scene?

Brenda Stumpf: I really enjoyed getting to know Pittsburgh’s art scene. I was living in Cleveland and began showing with Box Heart Gallery around 2002. I visited often and felt that Pittsburgh artists had a great deal of talent and tenacity and that the city could really develop into a something spectacular. I currently live in Denver and haven’t been back to Pittsburgh in a while but I am still represented by Box Heart Gallery and they keep me in the loop. The latest opening they had turned out about 500 people! Sounds like the art scene is pretty robust to me.

SD: Do you think Pittsburgh is a good place for women in art?

BS: Of course it is. When you look for opportunities with good and solid intentions there are bound to be people and circumstances that come into your life and you into theirs. You fundamentally change the milieu and more of the world opens up. By only concentrating on examples of limitations and lack, in my experience, you only get more of it. I’m grateful for meeting Nicole Capozzi of Box Heart Gallery years ago. Nicole has really been an advocate for women artists in Pittsburgh and abroad. She has more women than men on the gallery’s roster and a large number of my collectors live the Pittsburgh area.

Raise Your Indelible Eyes, 2011.  Brenda Stumpf.  Courtesy of Wes Magyar.

Raise Your Indelible Eyes, 2011. Brenda Stumpf. Courtesy of the artist.

SD: Where are you from? How did you get into art?

BS: I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I sort of knew art was my thing at an early age. In Kindergarten I was really excited about drawing and creating things with my hands. I took every opportunity in grade school through high school with art classes and then went on to the Columbus College of Art & Design with a partial scholarship and then quit after 2 years. My desire to get out in the real world simply couldn’t be contained!

SD: Tell me about your inspirations, process.

BS: I have an absolutely insatiable craving for the unknown and the ancient. My love for subjects like archeology, mythology and archetypes lead me to mysterious places – both light and dark. There are other creatives work that I connect to deeply such as Pablo Neruda’s poetry and the compositions of Arvo Pärt. I rarely sketch or have an overall plan with my work. It is a very organic process and much like a scavenger hunt; I get small clues and follow them where they lead. I really trust the muses and they don’t disappoint.

SD: Tell me about your current/upcoming show/exhibit/project and why it’s important to you.

BS: I’m working on the 3rd collaborative series, The Unspoken, with Josh Hogan who is a fabulous painter in Pittsburgh. That exhibition will be sometime in the next year at Box Heart Gallery. I love collaborating with Josh. It’s quite magical what happens in the paintings. We don’t discuss what each other is doing. We both start a handful of pieces and then swap.

I’m also working on a body of work for my solo exhibition at Box Heart Gallery that will be in the fall of 2015. I haven’t had a solo there for a while so it is going to be really special to be back for that!

Brenda Stumpf in studio.  Courtesy of the artist.

Brenda Stumpf in studio. Courtesy of the artist.

SD: Artist Wanda Ewing, who curated and titled the original LFF exhibit, said of her work: “I’ve been making provocative art with a political edge in my midwestern hometown since 1999. And to do that, you have to be tenacious as hell.” Are you tenacious in your work or life? How so?

BS: Oh dear. Just ask anyone who knows me! I have a really intense work ethic. I was wired that way from day one. I’m up at 5am so I can get to the gym, yoga or for a jog and then its nose to the grindstone and in the studio all day. My work often dips into some evocative subject matter and I don’t shy away from where it leads me to

SD: Ewing, who examined perspective of femininity and race in her work, spoke positively of feminism, saying “yes, it is still relevant” to have exhibits and forums for women in art; does feminism play a role in your work?

BS: I feel it has, but not in a forced way or in a way where I want to fit my art into a word. It seems I am naturally drawn to subject matter and stances that most people would see in my work as feminism, and I couldn’t disagree. I’m truly charmed by forces that are beyond my understanding when I am creating. I get taken to places and paradigms where there are no words. It is usually after some time has passed and the pieces are complete that I begin to verbalize and attach language to those abstract visual forms.

Seshat Installation.  2010, Brenda Stumpf.  Courtesy of the artist.

Seshat Installation. 2010, Brenda Stumpf. Courtesy of the artist.

SD: Ewing’s advice to aspiring artists was “you’ve got to develop the skill of when to listen and when not to;” and “Leave. Gain perspective.” What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

BS: (1) Integration. If you’ve disconnected the lower part of your body (your heart, your gut and your sexuality) from your head and the intellect is driving the bus all the time; reconnect. Its better to have more of your pieces parts online and engaged in the creative process. (2) Look who you surround yourself with. Be in good company.


Sally Deskins to Box Heart Gallery Owner and Director Nicole Capozzi: What are the draws for people out of the area to show in Pittsburgh?

NC: In general, I don’t think that most artists pick Pittsburgh specifically. For the most part, I think that artists are always looking to expand their market. If they find a specific opportunity that seems to relate back to their artwork, or come across a gallery, etc looking for new artists and open to submissions, they apply. Along this line, I think that is the draw of Pittsburgh – to expand your market as an artist to this area.

Box Heart Gallery.  Photo courtesy of Nicole Capozzi.

Box Heart Gallery. Photo courtesy of Nicole Capozzi.

SD: What are the limitations of Pittsburgh?

NC: I think you touched on Pittsburgh’s limitation in your Gallery Tally article. Pittsburgh has a larger amount of collective and non-commercial art spaces and not as many commercial spaces. There’s opportunity to exhibit, but not great opportunity to sell. There’s opportunity for temporal grants, but not for long-term financial sustainability. There’s often elitism in the non-profit sector that denigrates the entrepreneurial spirit of the commercial galleries. Non-profit and community sectors are valued for aesthetic satisfaction, collaboration, enriching community, etc – and these goals are often deemed more important than artist visibility, professional achievement, and commercial success. Pittsburgh needs to nurture a shift from our spectator audience to a consumer audience.

SD: How do you think Pittsburgh can get more people to exhibit in the area?

NC: Crossover! I’d love to see Pittsburgh’s arts sectors (for-profit, non-profit, community-based, government) come together and showcase the artists that are building their careers across these sectors. It’s very much about policy visibility in Pgh as a whole – a cultural arts destination where we are redefining the public’s interest in relation to the arts.

SD: What pushes artists away from exhibiting in Pittsburgh?

NC: The divisions are what push an artist away. In the end, the artist is going to go in the direction that best supports their artistic endeavors. If that means moving beyond Pgh to achieve desired success, they will do exactly that.


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