In today’s Griffin State of Mind, we feature Vicky Stromee. Her creative work, Envisioning Solitude, is on the walls of the Griffin until August 29th, 2021. We wanted to get to know more about Vicky and her work, so we asked her a few questions.
Tell us how you first connected to the Griffin Museum.
I met Paula in Portland at Photolucida. This was my first portfolio review and I really had no idea what to expect or how it worked. She was so kind in conversation. She was supportive of my work and encouraged me to stay in touch. Several years later she contacted me about doing an exhibition at one of the Griffin’s satellite sites where they had an unexpected cancellation. I had a show I had just taken down so I jumped at the chance to send off a crate of framed botanicals. My partner and I traveled to Boston for the opening and got such a warm welcome from Paula and the staff. I remember seeing Jane Fulton Alt’s Burn series in one of the gallery spaces at the Griffin and falling in love with her work. I’ve been a fan of the Griffin ever since.
How do you involve photography in your everyday life? Can you tell us about any images or artists that have caught your attention recently?
I walk every morning with a good friend and our dogs and I carry my camera everywhere. I try to take pictures everyday – plants, animals, insects, patterns, and shadows – whatever catches my attention. I’m pretty much in my studio every day where I build light experiments that I shoot for source images. I’m fortunate to have many rich connections with photographers – mostly through virtual connections on Facebook and Instagram, through my local ASMP chapter and an international group that I belong to – Shootapalooza. I have to say lately I’ve been following the work of Alanna Airitam – not only are her images beautifully executed (portraits and still lifes), but she is an impassioned and eloquent writer about her own journey as an artist and a person of color. I’m fascinated with the surreal qualities of Fran Forman’s work and the emotional explorations of Sandra Klein. I’m always inspired by Melanie Walker’s out of the box constructions and immersive installations. Annu Palakunnathu Mathew’s exploration of cross-cultural experience and invisibility also comes to mind.
Please tell us a little about your exhibition, Envisioning Solitude, and how it was conceived.
Pattern and texture, light and shadow, movement and transformation –these are undercurrents that have dominated my explorations throughout my life. From an early interest in math and science, an education in literary criticism, my chosen profession in mental health and my interest in photography beginning at age 8, I have been fascinated with the continual processes of deconstruction and reconstruction, looking for what is eternal amidst the transitory.
I am interested in edges and intersections of transformation where one thing moves inexorably to become something else. When is the moment when love fades into anger and resentment; when disillusionment erupts into a violent uprising; when order descends into chaos? And when is the moment when war turns towards peace; unbearable grief shifts towards acceptance; or when pain gives way to relief?
In this series: “Envisioning Solitude,” I seek out close-up views of known objects to reveal patterns of color, texture and form, then capture these images and layer them together to create objects of meditation on that transformative process. Central to this series is the image of the moon – a solitary celestial body reflecting the light of the sun. In mythology the moon is alternately a symbol of love, desire, change, passion, fertility, insanity, and violence. Often associated with the feminine, the nighttime illumination provided by the moon offers us a different perspective and cause for reflection.
Hear Vicky discuss Envisioning Solitude on the Griffin Museum YouTube channel In Their Own Words
Has there been a Griffin Museum exhibition that has particularly engaged or moved you?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I was moved by Jane Fulton Alt’s Burn work when I first saw it. Living at a distance, the experience of seeing images online is not the same as being in the room with the work. That said, of recent note was Jerry Takigawa’s Balancing Cultures. My best friend in high school was second generation Japanese-American and I remember her frequently crying in front of the mirror because “she didn’t look like everyone else.” Both her parents had survived the internment camps. I’m also so fond of Patricia Bender’s work and loved Euclidian Dreams. I am amazed with the variety of exhibitions that the Griffin offers – often showcasing artists I am unfamiliar with. Paula and the Griffin are real treasures for the photographic community.
What is your favorite place to escape to?
We have a 100+ yr old log cabin in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico – if I’m looking to just be – that’s the place. I lose track of time and can sit for hours listening to the river and watching the weather and the wildlife from the front porch. It is a place that brings me great peace. Beyond that, I love to travel and mostly to places that are so unfamiliar to me that it wakes up all my senses. India comes to mind as a favorite destination.
What is a book, song or visual obsession you have at the moment?
Most of the reading I do is of an academic nature. I do, however, listen to music when I’m working on images on the computer. I like a mix of jazz, blues, pop, world music – my current favorites are anything Taylor Swift, Adele, and Dua Lipa. My current visual obsession is watching the refracted early morning light that comes through the beveled glass window this time of year and fills the walls with rainbows.
If you could be in a room with anyone to have a conversation, who would it be and what would you talk about?
First, I think James Hillman, a Jungian analyst. The conversation would be wide ranging and of a spiritual nature – about the soul’s progression, the meaning of existence, and where creativity comes from. If I could have a second option it would be to sit in on a gathering of the Bloomsbury Group (Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey), of whom Dorothy Parker famously said: “they lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.” I would be content to just listen in to their conversations about life and art.
How do the people in your life influence your art?
Wow this could be a very long essay! Growing up our home was filled with gatherings of artists and scientists, rabbis and priests, and concerts with string quartets. I was surrounded by dancers, painters, musicians, photographers, actors, and philosophers. Art has always been a part of who I am. I’ve explored a variety of mediums with many great teachers who have taught me so much about “seeing.”
When I was getting started as a fine art photographer many people told me I should go see Mary Virginia Swanson (who, lucky me, lives in Tucson). I guess I heard it enough that I set up a session with her. I brought my favorite prints and set them down on the table. I still remember the humbling moment as she rifled through my stack, sliding them quickly off the pile with “seen it, seen it, seen it,” and then a pause: “I haven’t seen this.” I began to take an interest in looking at my work as others might see it.
I have a tendency to fall in love with my most recent work and count on my wife and close friends to offer honest feedback and ask insightful questions. Through this process I have increasingly learned to step away from my work and view it as an outsider. I value their perspectives and hold that alongside my own resonance with a particular piece. These conversations and participating in critiques with mentors have helped me to cultivate my ability to see and reflect on my work.
Five years ago, we realized a dream with our best friends and created an artist compound with two houses and four studios. We are all artists in different mediums (author, painter, musician and photographer). We often share long conversations about our latest projects, our hopes, and our challenges. Our home is filled with an eclectic mix of art that I draw inspiration from every day.