Show Preview | Stephanie Hartshorn & Elsa Sroka

Denver, CO
Abend Gallery, November 6-28

Elsa Sroka, Gratitude, oil, 20 x 20.

Elsa Sroka, Gratitude, oil, 20 x 20.

This story was featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art November 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story

Though they differ in choice of subject matter, Stephanie Hartshorn and Elsa Sroka are united in their dedication to their crafts, and also in their use of dynamic, energetic brush strokes. All these qualities are on ample display this month as the Colorado artists present substantial bodies of work—more than 20 paintings each—during their show at Abend Gallery Fine Art. The exhibition opens with an artists’ reception on Friday, November 6, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Sroka continues to explore what is becoming her signature subject: cows. “Many of her works have taken a focused, portraitlike scope to the subjects, infusing them with almost humanlike personalities,” says Connor Serr, co-curator of the gallery. Indeed, Sroka has been playing up this personification by titling her pieces after human emotions, such as gratitude. Recently, however, she has begun placing the cows in whimsical, surreal settings—a mother and calf floating in a rowboat at sea, or a cow wearing shoes and walking across a field. Although she absorbs influences ranging from childhood storybooks to contemporary design magazines, Sroka notes that these vantage points emerge without conscious thought. “I take [the cows] as my subject, then play around with my imagination as to where I can put them,” she says. In this latest work, Sroka says she’s been layering paint more, letting the texture and brushwork become more pronounced—a technique she shares with Hartshorn.

Stephanie Hartshorn, Motel 57, oil, 24 x 24.

Stephanie Hartshorn, Motel 57, oil, 24 x 24.

Hartshorn has long seen the paint on her canvases as a structural element. “I think [collectors] are going to see a lot more of that here. Painting this particular body of work, I’ve been thinking a lot more that I’m building the painting with every stroke—thinking about its direction, about the way the paint lays,” she says. Indeed, the paint appears as though it’s been built, much like the very structures Hartshorn is depicting, harkening to her past as an architect. Her lines are stark, minimal, and clean. Having spent much of the early part of 2015 painting rural scenes, in this body of work she’s turned her attention once again to the urban world. “We see a refinement of her artistic 
explorations. Those familiar with her work will recognize her love for the geometry of the city, with a concentration on classic, retro signage,” Serr says. In these pieces, she breaks down the elements to their essentials, cropping the context from around the signs—a technique she’s also applied to what she loosely describes as her gray series. In it, she pulls the viewer’s focus to one area with color and drops the rest of the painting into a neutral palette. Her subjects are gas stations and Laundromats, and her works, as she observes, often give “life to something that has become abandoned.”

Hartshorn draws upon her memories of childhood road trips for depictions of Route 66 signs, evoking a sentimental portrait of the West. “These signs have their own personalities. People are warmed by that nostalgia,” she observes. —Ashley M. Biggers

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Featured in the November 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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