Stephanie Armbruster was my very first post here on Steeltown in October of 2009! I was researching collage in Pittsburgh and came across her installation at the Mattress Factory as part of their Gesture’s exhibit. I had the opportunity to meet her when she was just getting her studio together over at the UnSmoke Artspace located in Braddock. I thought it would be fitting to feature her a year later with an interview and a tour of her space.
You work mainly with collage, what is your process? Do you start sketching or do you just go for it: My creative process is completely random – I tend to show up at studio with a heap of images and bits of paper and just toss it all out on the table. My studio process always begins with photography – shooting my own references or scavenging bits of ephemera. I let the images inspire the content of the finished artwork and try to keep things loose, gestural, and spontaneous. For me, creative concepts have the shelf life of a dairy product – 5 to 7 days tops – if they take too long to realize, it’s time to toss them out.
I love your style and it reminds me of street art, where do you get your inspiration from: I find inspiration in cities, urban life and the post-industrial urban landscape. I am influenced by a serious love of typography, design, and architecture and I also attribute a lot of my inspiration to music. Each series that I create is deeply influenced by the music that I’m listening to at the time. Street art has been very influential to me because it allows a lot of room to be whimsical and playful by juxtaposing images with architecture. I love working on mural scale projects with street art materials and then bringing those influences back to the studio in my smaller mixed medium paintings.
Your studio is located in the UnSmoke Artspace in Braddock, how do you like being over there: I can’t help but feel that my experience in Braddock has become a part of my work. The grand buildings and peeling paint convey a rich visual history; the weight of all those layers just has so much presence. I originally set up my studio in Braddock because I found the city itself inspiring and I couldn’t afford a studio anywhere in Pittsburgh. I love the sound of the mill and watching the steam and flames at night. In the four years since I started out in Braddock, my portfolio has completely transformed and the city has come to mean a great deal to me. I have a deep respect for Braddock.
You were also one of the people featured in the Levi’s campaign, how did that opportunity come about: That’s a really funny story. Jeb Feldman, the founder of UnSmoke, told me that Levi’s was interested in my work and that they were holding meetings at the Elk’s Lodge. I dropped by on my way to studio thinking I was going to talk about art and what I walked into was an open casting call for models. I was beyond terrified!! Several months later they took photos of me in my studio for the ad campaign and interviewed me for the IFC/Sundance documentary. I think it’s amazing that Levi’s hired local residents for the campaign and that they are donating to the community center – I hope that they continue to be a beneficial presence in Braddock.
Who are some of your favorite artists that have influenced you (can be any medium):
William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, David Carson, and Sam Keith.
How do you balance your time between having a 9-5 job and working on your art: I always have to make the choice between sleep, studio, and having a social life. I work in studio nights and weekends – when I’m inspired, I’ll work at a frenzied pace for months at a time with very little sleep and little socializing and then I’ll take a week away from studio to recover. Since I don’t have a financial safety net, a full time job is a necessity right now, but I aspire to go full time studio.
What are some of your favorite objects in the studio: My yellow chair – it’s horribly uncomfortable, but I love the ridiculous yellow vinyl.
Name 5 albums you listen to while you create:
Matthew Dear: Black City
Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot
!!!: Strange Weather
Joy Division: Substance
Anything by The Streets
If you had to recommend 2 books to another artist/ illustrator what would they be:
Anything by Haruki Murakami or William Gibson
Can you tell us about any new and exciting projects or events coming up: I just started working with encaustic paints and they are absolutely amazing for layering mixed medium. I’m hoping to have a new series ready to exhibit early this spring.
I want to thank Stephanie for the taking the time to give us tour of her space. We had a lot of fun on this visit and witnessing some of her process. I have a great feeling that there is so much more to expect from her and I can’t wait to see the work she creates in the near future! To contact Stephanie for commission work or to view her portfolio you can visit her website at stephaniearmbruster.com
Photos courtesy of Kristy Lumsden of Burning Bright Studios.