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.
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 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.
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.