Just in time for the Hamptons summer restaurant season, along comes Stephanie Jordan, whose signature work in acrylic (with oil crayon) is of animals before they become meals. As this week’s cover art, “Top Loin” (60” x 80”), suggests Jordan’s fondness for whimsy writ large reveals itself in the names of paintings as well as in the paintings themselves.
Jordan loves to depict animals caught in an “uh–oh” moment, as though they realize they’ve just been spotted in the field, though they don’t quite get the message about their inevitable future. The rabbit in her piece “Stew” doesn’t know there’s a recipe hovering nearby. Nor do the geese lined up in “Terrine” guess where they may wind up. The ambiguity and charm of Jordan’s animal series stem from her technique, at once childlike and sophisticated.
Her creatures—airy, expressive beings—are defined by broken black contour lines and squiggles on faces and bodies. They strut, waddle and pose (sometimes suspiciously) against backgrounds of painterly swaths of contrasting color. The defining lines, more apparent in Jordan’s abstract series, especially her landscapes, “ground the scene, brace the composition,” and clearly evidence the artist’s eye for design—color as well as linear. It’s no surprise to learn that the animal paintings are favorites with organic farmers and chefs such as Mattituck’s Tom Colicchio, who started collecting them early on.
When you were living in Greenwich Village you worked as a corporate graphic designer, painting only by night and teaching yourself along the way. What prompted you to paint full time?
I spent about five years designing financial materials for clients such as Morgan Stanley, honing my design communication skills, training myself by way of these visual challenges, but I wanted a freer, more raw opportunity to express myself. One day, in a recycling bin in the hallway of my apartment, I found cardboard, and I started to draw and paint people, kind of impressionistic, big, in-your-face, tightly cropped portraits, but I discovered that if viewers didn’t know the people depicted, they lost interest. When I went hiking in Europe, rural areas in Germany, France and Holland, I started drawing animals and was struck by how many out-of-the-way places had fine restaurants that used local ingredients. I liked acrylic—it was less expensive than oil and easier to travel with, and I felt I could get the vibrancy others said could come only from oil.
Your children apparently get into your painting process, yes?
Yes, the two oldest (7 and 9) help prep the underlayers in many of the paintings [the third is only four months old]. Being part of creating the history of a painting by way of layering allows them to experiment, have fun and be part of the emerging history of the painting. Their presence also connects me to what sparked my interest in doing animal series—illustrations full of joy that I saw in certain children’s books, animals personified, animals with expressions, emotions, personalities.
You affix a tag line from Edward Hopper to your emails: “If I could say it in words, I’d have no reason to paint.” What’s the special meaning you attach to this comment?
I’ve always felt challenged to communicate in words, and I’ve always written poetry. I try to understand myself by communicating a story. In painting I felt I had a wider audience, but all my work is an opportunity for me to be true to myself and understand humanity.
Jordan’s work can be seen in the city at celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s various restaurants; at hotels (The MGM Grand in Foxwoods and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) as well as at fine art galleries in GA and NC. sljordanstudio.com