As an art educator, art gallery director and educator, curator, arts administrator, consultant and facilitator, Virginia Stephen has been engaged in a rich career of facilitating the engagement of people of all ages with art in formal and informal learning situations.
Stephen’s own art practice underlies her education practice.
Beginning as a potter and printmaker, Stephen’s practice shifted to painting and mixed media work employing watercolour, acrylic, drawing and the integration of found objects, handmade papers, silk fibre and photography on paper and on canvas. Having lived on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and grown up on the shores of the Great Lakes and the smaller lakes of northern Ontario, she identifies as a ‘water person’. Her attention gravitates to the shoreline and what she finds deposited by nature and humans on the beach and in the banks of rivers. Beginning with focus on a middle ground, the imagery evolves to explore the subject at very close range, moving it from the representational to the seemingly abstract. The surfaces of the rocks and the darkness of crevasses become the subject as does the spiritual, emotional and intellectual context that underlie the choice and exploration of the object. A recent series of work, Fortress, engages with the ubiquitous barnacle. Though tiny and often with a reputation as only a pest – sharp on the beachcomber’s bare feet and in constant need of being scraped from boat hulls – their tenacity in clinging to and surviving their liminal position at the shifting edge of water and shore is admirable. Close-up, their monochromatic structure is strong and elegant, each barnacle a fortress in itself, existing in community with others to create a fortress of fortresses.
In recent years, Virginia has returned to an early affinity for fibre and become a feltmaker, employing primarily wet fibre techniques for functional apparel, objects and wall works. In her recent exhibition at the Alberta Craft Council What’s A Girl to Do she explored the medium to create a series of ‘hats’, sculptural objects based on a traditional beret form but playing with scale, form, surface and embellishment to create narrative and memoir (with a dose of humour).
Stephen holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history and in visual art education from Queen’s University and the University of British Columbia. She has studied printmaking and painting at St Lawrence College, printmaking at the Banff Centre for the Arts, drawing and fibre at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, painting at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, and felting at various workshops and at Red Deer College ‘Series ‘program. She has had two residencies at the Banff Centre Leighton Studios (2006, 2009).