Born in Forest Knolls, California, Oceana Rain Stuart is a figurative sculptor and poet currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, with her atelier in Sausalito, California.
Through her work, Oceana explores tension in emotionally evocative subject matter that is expressive of light and dark qualities. Her unique molding techniques and surface treatments subtly blend the worlds of realism and surrealism.
Oceana grew up in a multi-generational artistic family in California in the United States. As a young adult, she lived in Europe, where she was inspired by many of the art masters of the past and present. She holds dual citizenship of the United States of America and Italy.
Oceana’s sculptures are part of private collections internationally. They have been exhibited at venues like the Carrousel du Louvre at the Louvre Museum, Museo Arte Contemporanea in Catania, the National Sculpture Society (for its 84th Annual Awards event held at the Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina), Art Comes Alive Exhibition (Cincinnati, Ohio), the Instituto Italiano di Cultura (sponsored by the Leonardo da Vinci Society of San Francisco), the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and the Peninsula Museum in Burlingame, California. Oceana has been honoured by the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club (New York) and is an elected member of the California Art Club (Pasadena). She has also been a finalist for the Museu Europeu d’Arte Modern figurativas exhibition in Barcelona.
Here she discusses her background and practice…
You were born in California in a multi-generational artistic family and lived in Europe as a young adult. Tell us about your creative and aesthetic journey. When did you have your very first “conscious” encounter with art? What sort of art was it? Do you recall any moment at which you “decided” you had to be an artist?
I have known my entire life that art was my path. When I was a toddler, my mom, who is also a figurative artist, introduced me to painting and sculpting as a way to keep me occupied while she created her own artwork. I have a photo of me at age two sculpting in water-based clay with her in the garden that is very dear to me. Both of my grandmothers were plein air and seascape painters, and their art inspired me as well. My paternal great grandfather, Gerard Carbonara, was a known composer, violinist, conductor and opera coach. He wrote over 250 sound tracks for Paramount films. He taught my father how to play music, who went on to have a successful musical career as well. I am fortunate to have been brought up in a family where art and music were encouraged and supported.
In addition to being a fine artist, you’ve been a fashion designer and founder of a business that has dealt in high-end women’s apparel. Could you share some thoughts on your relationship with art and fashion?
Art has always been at the core – the inspiration behind my creative endeavours. When I was in the fashion business, I enjoyed the process of turning fabric into what some might consider to be wearable art. Being a fashion designer gave me a unique understanding of physical human beauty, aesthetics, and proportion, and of how the silhouette of a pattern, or the colour and design of a textile, can enhance the human form. Sculpture allows me to explore the depth of emotion as it is reflected through the human form.
What motivated you to shift career directions from fashion to fine art?
I enjoyed working in the fashion business. However, being a retailer was very demanding and it didn’t allow me to devote enough time to creating art. In 2009, after 11 years of business, I was ready to make the change so I closed my fashion business to pursue sculpture full-time. I have never been happier and more fulfilled.
You were educated at the Art Institute of San Francisco and the Laguna College of Art and Design but you primarily consider yourself a “self-taught intuitive artist”. How was the classroom experience for you? What valuable things did you learn “by yourself”?
Although I don’t have a formal degree, my experience in the classroom and in various workshops has helped me in many ways to employ certain classical methodologies and techniques and was instrumental in giving me a well-rounded and objective approach to creating art. However, I’ve learned the most by spending hours and hours in my studio. Art takes lots of practice and I will always be learning.
You juggle several initiatives at one time. What does your typical day look like?
I have learned to manage my time and schedule in order to accomplish what is needed to achieve my goals for my art career. My artistic process requires long hours of working in the studio. But managing the other aspects of my art career can be challenging, as I tend to want to spend most of my time creating art. In order to find balance I work 5 days a week sculpting and I dedicate a few hours a day to work on the business side (marketing, following up on emails, submitting work to upcoming expositions, logistics, etc.). Since I sculpt from life, I usually plan my schedule around the booked sessions with models.
Your “Eternity” series is fantastic. What is the main idea behind the project?
The Eternity series is a seven-piece (nine figure – two are couples) bronze series which explores aspects of life that have an eternal effect on the human condition. I have always questioned the impermanence and permanence of life. Humans are thousands of years old, stemming from the first human fossils. We keep evolving over time, generation after generation and yet we continue to suffer, thrive, and then ultimately expire. The human race has always questioned life and why we are here, our purpose – then why do we leave? The Eternity series, is not a necessarily series about death, it is actually about eternal life, interpersonal relationships and our involvement and evolvement.
What do the skulls represent in your Eternity series?
They represent the seed of the inspiration for the subject matter behind the piece.
I found “Eternal Warrior” quite compelling in its simplicity and straightforwardness. What does it mean?
The Eternal Warrior represents embracing all that can be a hindrance and redirecting that energy into a strength. The skull in this piece represents the obstacle.
“Eternal Rebirth” is another piece that engaged me immediately. Here a nude female is on the ground, about to get up. You say: “Each day we are reborn in an infinite number of ways, even on a cellular level. With each moment we have the opportunity to cultivate and live the life we were born to live.” Does the interior life—one’s spiritual element—come into play here?
Absolutely. Considering that we are not immortal, every aspect of our life places importance on each moment.
Have there been any unusual challenges in sculpting any particular piece? If so, please elaborate.
There are specific challenges involved with every piece I work on. Some more so than others. There are moments where I struggled with how I wanted a piece to be versus how they needed to be from an intuitive point of view. Of course as usual in creating art – once I gave in to the inspiration and removed myself from the creative process everything tended to work out.
The biggest challenge yet has been in having to sculpt the entire Eternity series a second time. I sculpted this body of work in an oil-based plasticine clay and during an unexpected heatwave several of my pieces collapsed and others dripped down the armatures just a few days before I had planned to deliver it to the foundry. The next day I began the six-month process of re-sculpting all seven sculptures of the Eternity Series. It was a real test of my dedication and passion, and also the reason why I moved from that art studio to a climate-controlled one.
You work mostly in bronze. Have you tried other materials?
I started out sculpting in various water-based clays and I still love working in that material. However, I mostly sculpt in oil based clay now for bronze.
Tell me about the Fragment collection.
The fragment collection consists of six bronze sculptures: two female portraits, two pairs of hands, a skull and a female torso. Each sculpture is a fragment of the human form in a continuation of the Eternity Series.
From start to completion, it’s all about bringing the artistic vision to life and at the same time balancing the anatomical and the structural aspects. I always work with a life model and often utilise classical methods and techniques. However, I mostly rely on my intuition, as my process is primarily about what I see and feel.
Once my pieces are sculpted in clay and then there are many steps that follow to create a bronze which involve the 5,700-year-old lost wax process.
What does your artwork aim to express and what motivates and inspires you?
Empathy for the subject matter is the driving force behind my work. Something beautiful happens when we let our guard down – we become vulnerable, instinctively primitive and essentially free. I have a curious nature and I’m not satisfied until I’ve explored the tension and complexity behind the subject matter of the piece. In my work, I question life and interpersonal relationships and emotionally evocative subject matter.
I find that when I remove the expectations of what I think and allow the raw honesty of pure artistic expression to come out, my work flows better. This awakening that must come out in every piece is what it’s all about to me. I find that I am able to communicate in ways through my art that I may not always have the courage or ability to do in day-to-day life.
I thrive on taking chances and the opportunity for growth as an artist and human being. It is always my hope that through my work, someone will find a connection to the message I try to convey.
I’m fascinated by the subtle physical gestures, like the tender movement of a hand, the gaze of the eyes as well as the contradictions that are enclosed in the body language. Every face shares a lifetime of stories, and to me, this is true beauty.
How does your environment affect your creativity?
Inspiration can come in many forms. Being in nature has always had a positive effect on my creativity. I am renewed by the sights, sounds and scents of the sea and by experiencing a glorious sunset, or seeing wildlife. I can be motivated to create through an experience, a conversation, by another artist, a song, the feeling of an emotional, psychological or spiritual connection, or an intriguing poem. I’m driven by curiosity, passion and my love of beauty, both traditional and non-traditional.
Which of your pieces do you consider to be your strongest work yet?
With each new piece, I set out to do my very best work. However, with each creation, I grow as an artist, and my expectations also increase. My passion, driven by the tension and complexity of the subject matter, drives me to continue pushing. I believe that the elusive masterpiece resides deep in my soul, however, I have yet to sculpt it.
In your bio, you mention that you write poetry. Does poetry writing make you a better sculptor?
Beautiful words touch my soul. Poetry is yet another way that I can connect to the human spirit. Writing poetry is a creative expression separate from my sculpture work. And yet, on occasion, it has helped me to intuitively understand the direction I want to pursue with a sculpture.
Are there specific genres of art through history that you are drawn to?
I am certainly attracted to the art and architecture of the past. I’m especially drawn to depictions of Greek mythology, and to art from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and 19th Century periods, amongst others.
I read that you are an educator as well, having conducted workshops in California. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
It is rewarding to witness my students grow and develop artistically. I enjoy passing on helpful techniques and methods of classical sculpture that has helped me as well as my own. I don’t have a lot of time to teach so I primarily hold workshops in between projects or on a weekend. I believe in giving back.
What projects have you planned for 2018 and beyond?
I am working on my new figurative bronze sculpture series, which I plan to unveil later in 2018. I also have several projects and exhibitions in the works that I will announce on my website.
Find Oceana on her website (www.oceanarainstuart.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/Oceana.Rain.Sculpture.Art), Twitter (@OceanaRain), Instagram (www.instagram.com/oceanarainstuart_sculpture), Vimeo (vimeo.com/oceanarainstuart), YouTube (www.youtube.com/channel/UCtxGfFjiJJdbSyp5I__Ht3Q) and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/oceanarainstuart).