The Artist

After studying under Augustana’s Scott Parsons,
Audrey Stommes ‘10 is making her own art and teaching budding artists .

Audrey StommesLike many students heading off to college, Audrey Stommes got some words of advice from her parents: Be an artist.

“My parents sat me down and said, ‘Art is a strong point for you and there is a career in that,’” Stommes recalls.

As an undergraduate at Augustana, Stommes, class of 2010, studied graphic design, printmaking and drawing in the initial hopes of becoming a graphic designer. That all changed when her advisor and professor Scott Parsons shared information on a residency and internship program at the New York Center for Art and Media Studies in Manhattan. Stommes leapt at the chance which paired her with a working artist in NYC.

“It really allowed me to see that this kind of lifestyle was possible,” Stommes said. “I went to New York and I realized I could be a fine artist.”

Stommes completed her M.F.A. in studio art at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln this spring. Having already established her skill at figure drawing while at Augustana, she was seeking inspiration when her graduate committee recommended the zoology lab on campus. She started a collaboration with Dr. Patricia Freeman, professor and curator of zoology at the University of Nebraska State Museum. Stommes was given access to work with the preserved specimens and found herself pulled to one particular species: bats.

“Bats have a similar anatomy to humans which ties back into my undergraduate work on the figure,” said Stommes. “It allowed me to start experimenting with materials and become more abstract with it.” Her time in the lab culminated in her first solo exhibit, “Origins,” held at the Natural History Museum in Lincoln, Neb., in 2011.

At this time, Stommes was living in a tiny apartment barely big enough to hold a bed and a few necessities. Still, it served as a sanctuary where she could crawl beneath the covers on a cold Nebraska night. She spent most of her time in her studio on campus trying to deconstruct anatomical figures into their essential parts and being brought ineluctably back to the human form.

Stommes has an eye for fine detail and form but it was preventing her from moving past life-like, indentifiable figures, so she  decided to try something  new: bed-sized sheets of paper and Tyvek whose lines and shapes would involve whole body movements. In order to work on such a monumental scale, she would lay the sheet on the floor with a drawing board on it. To reach the center, she would crawl around on top.

What started to show up on the pages surprised her: figures of human limbs wrapped in cloth. Stommes recalls intentionally putting blankets into the picture in order to obscure and abstract the form, but something about the figures nestled in fabric reminded her of her own tiny apartment.

“I realized after I started making these things that it was me,” Stommes said.

Intrigued by the forms she was creating and their personal significance, Stommes started other pieces along the same lines of invoking figures caught in “the moment before falling asleep where the conscious and subconscious meet.” She would work all day in her studio for weeks on each “dream state,” establishing the forms in ink and layering translucent acrylic glaze over the top. Switching between the works in progress until the piece felt right, she would frequently retreat to her bed for inspiration. “Towards the end of the semester my walls were just filled with these huge drawings,” she recalled, ruefully noting that they were too big to frame.

This fall Stommes returned to Augustana for her first major solo exhibition at the Eide/Dalrymple gallery. “Wrapped Up: Recent Works by Audrey Stommes” showcased her large-scale works on paper from her M.F.A. thesis and other recent pieces. Too big to frame, the pieces hung from the ceiling and appeared to float on the wall moving ever so slightly in the air. Her dreams had become a reality.

Looking forward, Stommes is sharing her love of art with her students as a new adjunct professor of art foundations, drawing and design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

At the same time, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows her that Stommes continues to make art. Still working with the human form, she is working on a smaller scale to retain mobility.

“I like drawing because it’s immediate. I can do it anywhere,” she noted, after a pause. “I don’t need a huge studio. I need to make art all the time.”