Emerging Artists | Ardith Starostka

Building on the classics

Ardith Starostka, Remembering Ophelia, oil, 32 x 32.

Ardith Starostka, Remembering Ophelia, oil, 32 x 32.

This story was featured in the March 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

For years, classical realism has informed Nebraska native Ardith Starostka’s approach to painting. Recently, however, the figurative artist has started to introduce contemporary touches, such as surrealism and modern-day symbolism, to her traditional portraits. One of her self-described “breakout” pieces in that vein is a multi-award-winning work that cleverly fuses the figure and background together through pattern and color. “Artists are always looking for that magical answer—that magical brush, magical paint, and magical light,” says Starostka. “With WALLFLOWER, I think I came close.”

Well before she started the painting, the artist had a specific background pattern and red color scheme in mind. “I try to reproduce what I have in my mind with the right props, the right model, and the right lighting,” she explains. “I went to the local Sherwin-Williams, flipped open a book of wallpaper samples, and landed on the pattern I’d imagined in my head.” Starostka purchased a roll of the crimson floral paper, pasted it onto a large board, attached a few artificial flowers and fresh tulips for a three-dimensional effect, and snapped some shots of her prop. She then photographed her daughter modeling a plain red dress and altered the pictures in Photoshop, superimposing the wallpaper patterns over the fabric. The artist used these images as references to complete her painting—a visually stunning portrait with an allegorical twist. “My daughter used to have conversations with me late at night about how nobody really noticed her, which wasn’t true, but she had these ideas that nobody saw her,” says Starostka. “I’m always trying to be narrative in what I paint.”

The artist studied painting at the University of Nebraska and with Nelson Shanks, Richard Whitney, and Daniel Greene, all of whom focused on traditional principles in their teachings. Those influences—as well as her reverence for old masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Bouguereau—shine through in LITTLE BIRD, a classic portrait that earned the artist a silver medal in Oil Painters of America’s national exhibition last year. But lately Starostka has also silently been taking notes from fresh, innovative realists like Daniel Sprick and Brad Kunkle, and in her own studio, she’s experimenting with different varnishes, lighting effects, and gold-leaf gilding. Though she’ll never give up her traditional style, says Starostka, she has plans to expand her comfort zone.  —Kim Agricola

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This story was featured in the March 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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