Friday, May 2, 2014

Studio Visit: Elena Stonaker

In March, I had a wonderful studio visit with Elena Stonaker, here in Los Angeles. Elena creates all pieces by hand – beading & stitching intricate soft sculptures and wearable art, as well as painting mythical universes connecting the earth to the mystical on paper, canvas and clothing. Here are images and snippets of our conversation from this visit. 

photo by Shelby Duncan | artwork image courtesy of Kime Buzzelli

hand-painted dress in the studio | music video for Bitches | Elena's wearables at the recent Juxtapoz Psychedelic Book Release Party & Exhibition, photo by John Bajana

I love the concept of Elena's artwork progressing as it's own entity, transforming from one version of itself to another – metamorphosis, a recycling of itself into another existance. What was once a soft sculpture transforms into wearable art or vice versa.  Some of the most important themes in her work are about creation and transformation.

"Life naturally moves in cyclical patterns. In the cycle of a year there is birth, growth, harvest, death. To allow my art to change purpose over time, to be destroyed and then resurrected in different forms,  follows a natural rhythm. I love every stage – death as much as birth. Time never ends. Nothing is ever finished. I am never finished. Perpetual change."

There is such a clear and potent expression of symbology and mythology in Elena's art, creating a direct way to connect universally and a path to take power within one's own world.

"I choose images that have withstood time and crossed cultural borders: eyes (powerful vision, hearts (love, consciousness), conjoined figures (total connection), breasts (feminine nourishment / sensuality), mouths with tongues sticking out (Kali - the creator / destroyer), snakes (infinite transformation), female genitalia (birth, sex), birds (flight, freedom), plants (life, magic), hands (creation) and variations on Yin and Yang."

Elena's soft sculpture captured by Mario Zoots | Carly at Salvation Mountain | Elena by Shae DeTar

mural at The End, a vintage and designer shop, 55872 TwentyNine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284 | detail of painting | detail of hand-beaded necklace

Elena's work is highly influenced by mythology, folk crafts, ritualistic objects and ceremonial wear. Peeks of Niki de Saint Phalle, Leonora Carrington, Louise Bourgeois, Hieronymus Bosch come through in her art. Recently making Los Angeles her new home from New York City via Denver, she's been embraced and influenced by a magical tribe of creative visionaries including Carly Jo Morgan, Sarah Buckley, Augustus Britton, Jacqueline Suskin, Tracy McCarty and Astral Eyes.

Elena and studio manager, Sarah Buckley working on a sculpture, taken by Dan Rowan | detail shots of the extensive hand-work that goes into each piece

Carly's wedding dress and ceremonial hanging created by Elena, taken by Shelby Duncan who in addition to her extensive span of editorial, portrait & lifestyle work, also does rad wedding photography 

Elena's parents have been a constant positive force in encouraging her to follow her own bliss. She grew up surrounded by clay figurines, intricately carved wooden furniture, colorful weavings, handmade textiles and various relics from India, Egypt and Columbia – where her father's Midwestern family had lived for periods of time for her grandfather's cattle genetics business. All of those culminate to channel her own mythology and visual aesthetic.

Marina, Elena's mother was a navy brat who grew up mainly in Oahu and earned her college scholarship as a figure roller-skater. [Rad! I used to roller-skate to school and literally hunch down as I rolled in late to the back of my Environment Bio class.] Marina had an interest in botany which led her to Colorado where she met and married Elena's father, Frank. Together, they started an organic farm and greenhouse business. Today, she practices energy medicine after many years of being a Waldorf teacher and an ardent student of Rudolf Steiner's philosophy. Frank is an avid nature worshipper who took the family on backpacking excursions, setting up teepees and yurts. To pursue his dream of owning an orchard, Frank recently abandoned his newly earned tenure as a university professor in Organic Agriculture. 

With these earthen roots flowed from her parents, Elena was born in the midst of strawberry season. Much of her childhood was spent outdoors, cultivating a friendship with the dirt, bugs, flowers, and understanding the cycle of seasons. With the Waldorf upbringing, Elena intertwines the teachings into her work – exploring the evolution and beautiful rituals that celebrate the spirit.

photo by Ted Emmons

Currently Elena's art is on view at the Juxtapoz Psychedelic Book Exhibit. Limited edition lithographs, original art and prints of her work are at She is also available for inquiries on existing work, commissions and bookings.

Thank you Elena and Sarah!! Love you both, ladies. xo

All photos taken by Sherise Lee for The Radder except where noted.
Many thanks to all the talented photographers who let me share their work.

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