Stephanie Imbeau received her BFA in art from Ohio State in 2004 and has since become an influential installation and sculpture artist, using materials as unique as cardboard, porcelain and umbrellas. Her latest installation, Drift, will be included in the BGE Light Art Walk in Baltimore.
You use a variety of mediums in your artwork, but why umbrellas?
Umbrellas are an immediately recognizable form of protection used by people all over the world. So, on one level, they become an egalitarian symbol of shelter and — I hope — make my art approachable to anyone, no matter what your background is.
But another aspect of the umbrella that’s important to me and resonates with my work in porcelain and cardboard is that this tool of defense is actually a fragile object, easily broken. I spent many years living in New York City, and, inevitably, every rainy day the streets and sidewalks would be littered with remnants of damaged umbrellas. So frequently we associate defense or protection with strength and power, but the umbrellas undermine this assumption through this beautiful tension of security and frailty.
What message do you try to convey through your work?
While I hope my work can be read in many different ways as each person who views it discovers something new, I am certainly trying to champion the importance of the everyday and the power of community. I am also trying to tease out questions of vulnerability and fragility, and you can find these qualities within the acts of defensiveness and strength.
You’ve had your work exhibited in a variety of places all over Europe. How have your experiences abroad shaped you as an artist?
I don’t think I would have ended up as an installation artist and sculptor if I hadn’t ended up moving to England. Even though the seeds of this practice began forming while I was at Ohio State, I needed the time of discovering who I was in a completely different context to push me into a more physical and three-dimensional practice.
Your newest umbrella installation, Drift, will be on display at the BGE Light Art Walk. What does it mean to you to be included in this unique event?
I am so thrilled to have been included in the BGE Light Art Walk for Light City Baltimore. This whole project is community focused, aligning perfectly with my practice. Baltimore is a really special city with a rich history, and I hope to honor that aspect. There is also the fun fact that the first American umbrella factory was in Baltimore, so it feels fitting to put a bunch of umbrellas in the harbor.
@OSU_ART alum @stephanieimbeau lights up Baltimore with latest installation, made entirely of umbrellas ☂️ #ASCDaily
How did your fine arts education at Ohio State set you up to achieve your goals as an artist?
It gave me the confidence to spread my wings. Receiving positive input from professors I deeply valued, as well as a strong support system of classmates, was so important. In addition, being exposed to practicing artists in the form of professors and visiting lecturers gave me insight into the working lives of artists in the real world.
What advice would you give to students pursuing a BFA?
Take some accounting classes! Seriously. Being an artist is so rewarding but I wish I had taken the business side of things a bit more seriously when I developed my practice. Also, do as much writing as you can! You will be writing about your own practice for the rest of your career, so get a head start and utilize the incredible support system you have while completing your degree. Finally, don’t limit yourself! Take a variety of different classes that interest you, push what you think you are capable of, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and experiment. The resources you have while you are in college are invaluable.
Photography: BobbiJo Brooks
Story by Hannah Smith, ASC Communications student