Artist Stephanie Clair: Simple Moments
by Ron James
For nearly an hour, the Texan stood in front of the cubist-style painting hanging in the South Lake Tahoe art gallery. The work, called “Balancing Act,” was painted by 35-year-old San Diego artist, Stephanie Clair. It portrayed a man precariously riding a unicycle on a high-wire between light and dark worlds filled with metaphorical images.
It wasn’t the first time the Texan had done this. He had visited the gallery several times , each time intently gazing at that same painting. Finally he made up his mind and approached the gallery manager to make the purchase. The manager, who had been watching the Texan, asked him what made the painting so special.
“That painting is about me,” said the Texan. “I’m caught in that world, trying to find balance in my life — but working so hard I can’t seem to find time to find that light side that is in the painting. Sometimes I feel the world is passing me by.”
“I eventually talked with that man,” Clair said as she recounted the story at the Wine Steals wine bar in Hillcrest. “He told me that the painting had inspired him to quit the rat race and to retire early, and to go out and really enjoy his life before it was too late. And that’s what I try to do in each of my paintings. I try to inspire people to reflect on the simple moments in life that are really wonderful. ”
Looking through Clair’s body of work, you begin to see what she’s talking about. Whether it’s a painting of two close friends or lovers enjoying a glass of wine, a lone guitar player bewitched by his own music, lovers arm-in-arm in the Gaslamp, or beautiful nudes admiring beautiful flowers, All are simple personal pleasures frozen in time and all are transformed into intensely colorful and magical works of art.
One of San Diego’s best up-and-coming artists, Clair has been featured in several significant San Diego art events, including last year’s ArtWalk, where she was one of seven artists honored for excellence. You can meet Clair and see her original works at the upcoming ArtWalk by the Bay. One of her paintings is being used for the event’s official t-shirt. Her work hangs in nearly a dozen galleries from New York to Hawaii.
The South Park resident spent her formative years in the rural farm country of upstate New York. “There wasn’t a lot to do there and it got very cold in the winter,” Clair pointed out with a laugh. “I had been drawing since I was 3, and there was nothing to do but draw or stare at the snow. I chose to create a new world through my drawings. In high school I loved sculpture, photography and animation, and my drawing teacher really encouraged me to continue my art studies.”
Because of her passion and talent for drawing and animation, Clair thought about becoming a professional animator. She even interviewed with Disney, but found the corporate animation factory much too structured for her talent and nature.
At Old Dominion University in Virginia, she discovered she could paint. “I had a great instructor who thought I had talent,” Clair explained. “He really encouraged me — I feel that he was the key to my career as an artist. As part of the curriculum finals, art students each had to have a showing in the small Virginia college town. I sold every painting at my show, and from that moment I knew I would find a way to be a professional artist.” She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and design.
Clair calls herself a contemporary cubist painter. All of her works display modern variations on cubism using rich saturated colors. Her early paintings reflect the harder edges and abstraction of the early 20th century masters like Picasso. But her more recent work shows softer edges and a simplified structured elegance while still maintaining her trademark colors and theme.
“I loved Picasso, Kandinsky ,Matisse and Chagall,” explained Clair, “I like the idea that it is not so abstract that you can’t recognize or understand what I’m trying to show in my work. A painting may look as simple as a woman with a flower — but look further and you will see she is captured in simple complete inner peace and meditation — a feeling of how lucky we are to exist and experience the beauty of life.”
Clair’s technique and style has a dream-like feel, evoking the fleeting emotional Kodak moments in our life. There are subtle clues in the paintings that keep viewers coming back — looking for the story the artist intended.
Many of her paintings feature young women. When asked if they were self-portraits, she chuckled and said, “All of my paintings are self reflective — and yet most people understand them because we all go through the same challenges and emotional experiences.”
“You really can’t tell the race of my human subjects,” Clair added. “They could be Asian, white, black or Latino. I call my paintings ethnically universal. I do that so that everyone can put themselves in the picture and can enjoy and relate to that special moment we all hold on to.”
About 10 years ago, Clair moved to San Diego from San Francisco where she had been living for the previous few years. She found San Francisco exciting, but just a bit overwhelming with its complex high-energy and expensive lifestyle. “San Francisco is a great city,” Clair said. “But it’s so expensive. I had to take a job with City Search to afford it. The job and all of the distractions in the city really cut into my time to paint.”
I decided to take a trip to San Diego and I loved it. I loved the relaxed, laid-back feeling and the friendly people.”
Clair purchased a fixer in South Park and has been working on it with her husband, Eric. “It’s pretty time-consuming and my painting time has suffered a bit because of it — but it will be worth the wait. We’re converting the garage into an art studio,” she explained. “I really enjoy living in South Park, I love all of the wonderfully unique old homes in the area. And all of our neighbors are friends — they watch out for us and we watch out for them. It’s a great place to live.”
Some of Clair’s works hang in Wine Steals in Hillcrest and Point Loma. “Wine Steals is a special place,” she said. “I’m a wine enthusiast and the first time I came here, I was excited by the atmosphere and the mix of people young and old. It had a great feel; I looked at the wall and thought that my painting would look just right. It felt just right.”
She approached the management with the idea of hanging a couple of paintings, and once they saw her work they enthusiastically agreed. Clair painted a scene of friends drinking wine. The light fixtures and other clues in the painting reveal that they are in Wine Steals.
That painting hangs just over the Hillcrest Wine Steals sofa where friends share those moments every day. Clair enjoys going to Wine Steals to watch people looking at her work — seeing them share the emotion and story she strived for.
Although Clair continues to master her craft and evolve her style, her sensitivity to the human condition remains constant. “Let the world become light, like clouds beneath color; see the world through the eyes of a child; innocent, colorful, dreamy,” Clair writes in a passage on her Web site. “I hope to touch your soul with my brush and inspire you to see through a new set of lenses.”
Just like that Texan.
Clair Studios: www.stephanieclair.com, 619-231-0944.
Ron James is a wine and food columnist and radio host whose columns and features have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country.
ArtWalk on the Bay
September 12 & 13
An open-air fine arts festival featuring original artwork from more than 100 artists, live music, wine tasting, and kids’ activities.
The fourth annual event is expected to attract more than 30,000 people!
What: ArtWalk on the Bay is the fall counterpart to the 25-year-old Mission Federal ArtWalk. Now in its fourth year, ArtWalk on the Bay presents the best of the region’s original works of art on exhibit and for sale in a picturesque outdoor setting along San Diego Bay. The event is located at Embarcadero Marina Park North (behind Seaport Village), featuring more than 100 artists and their original work, alongside live music performances on two stages.
New this year, ArtWalk on the Bay will introduce a “Bayside Lounge,” which will serve a signature Bloody Mary cocktail, beer and wine to guests over 21 years of age.
A special part of the festival for families and children is KidsWalk, which provides free interactive arts activities for kids of all ages.
When: The weekend of Sept. 12 and 13 (Saturday & Sunday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.
Where: Embarcadero Marina Park North (located behind Seaport Village), San Diego.
Cost: Free admission.