Artist still sees the same conviction in her work that she's always had
In 1997, Stephanie Rond's artwork hung at Ohio State University, her senior Bachelor of Fine Arts solo show serving as a culmination of her four years spent on campus.
Now, 20 years later, Rond's work hangs in the Ohio State University Faculty Club.
“Studies and Discourse: 20 Years of Artwork by Stephanie Rond” features work selected from throughout the artist's career. But if you were expecting a traditional retrospective, you've got the wrong artist.
Rond — feminist artist, street artist, gallery owner, art organizer, Columbus icon — was not interested in a simple chronology of her work. There are, for sure, pieces from throughout her 20 years of art-making (and then some — the exhibition features work included in the aforementioned BFA show), but Rond confessed there was a certain examination taking place as she worked with OSU Faculty Club Director Lisa Craig Morton to select pieces for “Studies and Discourse.”
“If I'm thinking about friends who've known me for 20 or more years, they would probably not say this was a great retrospective, chronologically speaking,” Rond said in an interview at her Clintonville home. “They would say, though, that this is a progression of Stephanie for her voice, [and] that they could see how she got from there to here.”
The exhibition is not displayed in any sort of chronology. The cards on the wall accompanying each piece will include the work's date, but Rond said that's not the point.
“It's interesting to see … I'm still having the same discussions about social issues I was 20 years ago,” Rond said. “Now people are more open to those discussions. When I was making this work in college, I had a lot of classmates and even some professors telling me my work wasn't valid, that equality was a thing, that everything was great and to look at all the advances we made. But I didn't believe it and kept making the work anyway. It's interesting to look at 20 years of my voice saying, ‘Look at the inequalities [in society].'”
The approach is about as close to a brief summary of Rond as an artist that you're going to find. Asked if it was possible for her to make art without addressing broader issues and fostering conversation, Rond replied, “I don't think so.”
“I've always used art as a place to have my voice, to express what I'm thinking and hopefully to give people a place to share what they're thinking, too,” she added. “It doesn't have to be like that for everyone, but for me art is about, ‘What's the discussion around this physical thing in front of us?'”
All of which is not to say that “Studies and Discourse” doesn't involve some nostalgia. She recalled when her piece “Pattern Perfect, Perfect Pattern” earned the Edith Fergus-Gilmore Materials and Scholarship Award from OSU. “That was the first piece of art that somebody invested in,” she said.
The artist also opened up about Pheoris West operating as her chief advocate — “He knew where I was going. He always told me to keep going even if people weren't listening. I wouldn't have survived without him, honestly,” she said — and admitted that she never set foot in the gallery space at the Faculty Club while she was an undergrad.
It's that third recollection that Rond decided to address with a two-fold approach. The first was to proffer the idea of bringing her mural art to the space, displaying it on the exterior of the Faculty Club. Eventually it was arranged for Rond to show her mural work on the building's exterior during her friend Lisa McLymont's show at the space in March. The piece — a Rond-ian portrait of McLymont — is still on view.
“I wanted to do something that would maybe draw the students in,” Rond said, adding with a laugh, “Who gets to say, ‘I did graffiti on the Oval?'”
The second was the inclusion of 88 pieces of free art in the show. Rond painted on small blocks of wood (on a not-so-subtle base of scarlet and gray), and included writing on the reverse side by Cynthia Amoah and Kim Leddy. She called it the Love Campaign.
“I asked [the writers], ‘What does love sound like?' I heard some things after the [presidential] election, some things that were done or said on campus that were hateful, so I wanted to counteract that,” Rond said. “I thought this was a great opportunity for collaboration, but also how great it could be for a student to see this image and turn over and have these beautiful words.”
She gave away 44 of the blocks at the exhibition opening and placed the other 44 in places around campus that she frequented as a student.
“I consider myself lucky to go to OSU [because] I studied so many other things that helped me as an artist,” Rond said. “I took a whole bunch of entomology classes. I have a minor in what was then called women's studies. All of these things informed my art making.”
So there was some nostalgia happening after all while she was assessing her work over the past two decades.
“Some of [the pieces] remind me of a personal story or what was happening in my life at the time,” she said, adding that, with all of them, “I still see the conviction in the work that I've always held.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect name for a scholarship received by the artist.