Each year, the Gibbes Museum of Art and Society 1858, a young Gibbes patrons fundraising group, award the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art to an artist living and working south of the Mason-Dixon line. This year, seven artists made the short list: Jim Arendt, Sonya Clark, André Leon Gray, Jackson Martin, Jason Mitcham, Damian Stamer, and Stacy Lynn Waddell. We’ll be posting a short Q&A with each artist in the weeks leading up to the announcement.
Damian Stamer is a North Carolina-born painter with an impressive resume: he’s studied in Hungary and Germany, in addition to the U.S., is a Fulbright grantee, and has received scholarships awarded by the Rotary Club and the U.S. Congress, among others. Stamer’s paintings are haunting, often featuring ramshackle, rural buildings that seem not only abandoned, but forgotten.
City Paper: I’ve read that you’ve got a strong international background and commitment to participating in the international art conversation, but your subjects are drawn from your childhood in North Carolina. How do you reconcile those two worlds in your work?
Damian Stamer: Perhaps the simplest answer is that I connect these worlds in my day-to-day life. I have two studios where I create work, one in Hillsborough, N.C. and the other in Brooklyn, N.Y. During my drive to the North Carolina studio, I pass many of the barns and architectural ruins that fill my paintings. And my studio in Brooklyn is only a subway ride away from some of the world’s best museums and galleries. This isn’t to say that the entire international art conversation revolves around New York City. There exists an incredible group of artists, patrons, galleries, and museums in North Carolina as well.
In terms of my paintings, I attempt to combine these worlds by taking images from my home and homeland and transforming them in a way that challenges certain formal and conceptual boundaries of contemporary painting.
CP: Your artist statement mentions that in addition to the familiarity of your childhood, you sense “darker stories” in the landscapes you paint. What do you mean by that?
DS: I imagine that over millennia most soil on the earth has been drenched with darker stories of man, not just the landscapes I depict. That said, the history of labor on these particular plots of earth is certainly wrought with cruelty and heartache. Other darker stories are found in the wild imaginations of adolescent boys hunting for adventure (such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Stand By Me).
CP: Could you describe your process?
DS: Every blank canvas or panel presents a unique problem to solve. I find that part of the solution can only be revealed through the process of painting. I never start with a preconceived image of what the finished piece will become. My favorite time to work is late into the night and early morning, when the world outside slows down and my ideas come to life.
CP: What are you working on now? Any new projects in the works?
DS: I am working on a group of paintings for Sherrick & Paul, a new gallery opening in Nashville, Tennessee. The inaugural show includes some of my favorite artists (William Eggleston, Nick Goss, and Wendy White) with whom I am honored to have the opportunity to exhibit.
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