Special Edition Issue: Interview With Christine Stoddard

To celebrate the February 26th launch of our special edition issue, we're sharing interviews with a few featured artists. Below we interview Christine Stoddard, an artist based in Brooklyn.

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GS&NS: Hi, Christine! Please introduce yourself to GS&NS readers.

Christine: Hello! Thanks so much for giving me a chance to talk about what I do—again! 

I’m a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist originally from Virginia. Currently, I live in Brooklyn with my husband and our ever-growing collection of books and art. I write fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, in addition to making mixed media paintings, collages, comics, films, and video art. My work has appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, Bustle, The Feminist Wire, Pank, Jimson Weed, the New York Transit Museum, the New York City Poetry Festival, the Poe Museum, the Condé Nast Building in Times Square, and beyond. I am the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine, which earned me the title of one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s from Folio Magazine, and Comicality Magazine, which earned me the title as one of Style Weekly’s “Top 40 Under 40” in Richmond, Virginia. 

This fall has been very kind to me. The season kicked off with the release of my nonfiction book, Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia, which I spoke about at Fall for the Book, a literary festival in the Greater Washington, D.C. area. Not too long after that, I learned that Dancing Girl Press will be publishing my poetry and flash fiction chapbook Ova next year. Just before Thanksgiving, I premiered “The Badass Lady-Folk of Brooklyn,” a feminist talk show that airs on Radio Free Brooklyn, with Mari Pack and Kaylin Kaupish. That’s in addition to earning multiple publications in consumer and literary magazines, featured readings and art exhibits at local New York venues, the release of Quail Bell Magazine’s latest print ‘zine, and art awards from ArtBridge and the Library of Virginia. 

Overall, I’m feeling pretty blessed right now. Expressing gratitude may sound corny, but it’s important. Even though I work hard, I know my loved ones have helped me achieve what I have. You have to acknowledge those who lift you up. 

GS&NS: I know a bit about you from our previous interview and would like to parse through your thoughtful responses. You mention how you “constantly strive to understand and reconcile my identities through my art and writing” and that really resonates with me as a female creator. I’m curious about what you aim to achieve by reconciling these identities? Is it personal or are their broader aims?

Christine: We create to express ourselves and that allows us to explore who we are. I’m someone who has straddled racial, ethnic, geographic, and religious identities my whole life. That’s a reality that has been confusing and occasionally painful, but also beautiful. I am proud of who I am, who my family is, and where I am from. Yet it’s taken me 28 years to get to this point and I’ve gotten here in large part because of the arts. Studying art, enjoying it, thinking about it, reacting to it, and making it has truly shaped my ability to understand my time and place. That doesn’t mean I understand it perfectly, but I can thank the arts for kickstarting that understanding. 

Womanhood is, of course, part of my identity. I consider it one of the more complicated facets of who I am, and I think many women, particularly women of relative privilege (such as a white-passing biracial woman like myself), would say the same. In most of my closest friendship, womanhood and the desire to fight for women’s empowerment is what binds us. So when I make works centered on these themes, I’m not just making them for myself. I’m making them for the women in my life and women in general. The women in my life inspire me not just in a motivational manner, but also creatively. I think a lot about our conversations and the experiences we share, whether I’m setting out to write a poem or planning a photo series. There are so many ways to be a woman and yet there is so much we have in common with other women if we choose to see it. 

So my art starts from the personal, but I always have broader aims in mind. I want my art to be for all kinds of women. I also want it to be for all kinds of men, with the hope that it will help them understand why women’s empowerment and equality for women matter.

GS&NS: We published two pieces of your art, “The Great Escape” & “Rose Shell”, and I’m always interested in what inspires artists. Was it a specific moment that led you to create these pieces?

Christine: “The Great Escape” and “Rose Shell” were created about a year apart and in different places. 
I made “The Great Escape” while still living in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. It was shortly before I got married. I was very excited to marry the man who is now my husband because I love him and his sense of kindness, but I still had mixed feelings about marriage, even during my engagement. Even though marriage should be a union of two souls, there are so many worldly things that threaten to pose a barrier. There are family expectations, religious expectations, and societal expectations at large. I wanted to escape from all of that. I just wanted to marry the person I loved without any politics or judgment from anyone. Unfortunately, that’s just about impossible, but I think we’ve done an admirable job of making a life for ourselves thus far.

I made “Rose Shell” when I first moved to Brooklyn in the spring of 2015. My husband and I lived apart very briefly because I had work up here, but his work was still tied to D.C. Even though we saw each other every other week, it was still hard. We’ve been together almost ten years now, so we’re pretty dependent on each other. I kept thinking about how I could stay grounded in my day-to-day activities without him. I tend to think about animals a lot because I spent so much time in nature as a child—my sisters and I are all Junior Rangers at multiple national parks—so, in my loneliness, I drew a lot of inspiration from turtle. The turtle carries her home with her wherever she goes. I had to remind myself that my husband was still with me in spirit, in my heart, even when we weren’t together every day. To me, he is home and I carried the thought of him every day until we were reunited. 
I made “The Great Escape” on recycled board. It contains tissue paper, acrylic, marker, pencil, and nail polish. “Rose Shell” was made on a piece of recycled canvas. It contains cardboard, acrylic, tissue paper, and natural objects.

GS&NS: In both pieces,  you use oceanic and mystical imagery. Can you speak more about those symbols?

Christine: Growing up, I spent a lot of time by the water, probably because my family has something of an aquatic obsession. I imagine that’s why I draw on nautical themes in my art and writing so often. My grandfather used to build boats as a hobby and my father went on to earn a professional captain’s license, even though he never became a full-time ship captain. My parents did run a scuba diving business on the side when they lived in Miami, though. Then when they moved to Virginia, they bought a house not far from the Potomac River. We went kayaking and canoeing there when I was a kid. We also regularly visited the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and beaches throughout the Miami area when I was growing up. 

One of the reasons why I love living in Brooklyn is that I’m near the water here, too. I often hear seagulls crying in the morning. I’ve never lasted long in any place that didn’t have a major body of water nearby and I don’t imagine that changing. 

GS&NS: Speaking from your experience as a more established artist, what advice would you give to an emerging female creator? Another way to think about it: what advice did you need to hear when you were first starting out? 

Christine: Thank you for the compliment! I still think of myself as an emerging artist, but I’m making strides. It’s certainly helped that I have people who care about and believe in me. 

Apart from having a strong support group, I recommend studying the arts as much as you can. You don’t have to do it formally and you don’t have to study your chosen art exclusively, either. Even if you pursue the Ivory Tower, you need to live life outside of academia, too. Try to give yourself a fuller understanding of the arts and the world. Allow for some healthy cross-pollination. Cartoonists can learn a lot from film. Musicians can learn a lot from poetry. Novelists can learn a lot from painting. That’s why you must make a concerted effort to consume a wide variety of art; there’s more than one canon. Think about how different artistic traditions, styles, and piece makes you feel. Think about what “works” and what doesn’t “work.” Ask yourself: Why do certain pieces speak to me when others don’t? 

Apart from that, work at your art. Having talent and imagination is not enough. You must put in the hours. That won’t always be easy, but ease is not art’s reward.

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