Art must derive from inspiration and Stella Maria Baer's inspiration is found in the sublime emptiness of the desert where she lives and works.
Stella Maria Baer is an artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico that works with a sense of being and a unique approach. Painting with dust and stone pigments from the desert, organic and earth colors are a specification of her art. The hight mountain desert of New Mexico shapes the colors of her paintings and her creative process.
Through her artworks, Stella conveys a cosmology that comes from her inner word and moves to the outer world. Her exquisite paintings are visions, poetry. Earth, moons, planets, the desert itself and the mystery they contain are a significant part of her oeuvre. Earth, moons, planets, the desert itself and the mystery they contain are significant part of her oeuvre.
Stella, who are you?
My name is Stella Maria Baer and I am an artist from New Mexico. I make paintings from dirt, stones, and sands. My husband Seth and I live with our two boys, Wyeth and Whitman, in an adobe house on a hill of juniper and piñon trees in the high mountain desert north of Santa Fe.
About being and becoming an artist
I grew up in Santa Fe and art was the landscape of my childhood. My mother was a weaver and my father owned an art gallery. On my father’s side, my grandmother was a painter and my grandfather was a photographer. On my mother’s side, my grandmother was a sculptor and my grandfather worked at a sheep ranch in Wyoming. But I never dreamed of art as something I wanted to do until after college.
I first started painting after college and didn’t show the paintings to anyone. They were prayers I painted when I first woke up.
While I was in graduate school I worked as a studio assistant to a painter and sculptor. Working for an artist cast a vision for me for what it meant to be a working painter. He gave me critiques on my paintings and answered questions I had about techniques, materials, and color.
He taught me to listen to my paintings and look at my work as something sacred. At some point during those years I realized I wanted to be a painter. I started taking studio classes in drawing and painting, using charcoal, oil, and watercolor.
My paintings moved from a secret prayer practice to something that was out in the open, critiqued and criticized. I learned to let go of whether or not other people liked my work and to focus on bringing the visions I carry into being. My graduate school thesis was a show of my paintings, and it was during that show that I sold my first painting.
A few years later I left my job as a studio assistant to pursue my own painting full time. It was terrifying and difficult, but little by little my work received more press and I did more shows, and I began to think I might be able to make a living as an artist. That was nine years ago. Pursuing life as an artist is not easy and is a life of uncertainty. But my paintings are now in collections all over the world, speaking to people in ways I never could have imagined.
Your paintings are made with natural pigments, clay, stone dust. How did you start working with these materials?
Several years ago I was painting on my easel in a desert canyon when the wind came up and knocked my canvas face first into the dirt. At first I was devastated but later a friend said maybe the earth wanted to be a part of the painting. That idea haunted me. I started experimenting with making my own earth pigments from sand and dirt. Over time I shifted to making paintings not just inspired by the landscape, but made from the land itself.
About the desert and how it influence your work
My work for the past seven years has been a meditation on the colors of the land where I grew up, my memory of the desert. At first I was matching the colors of the paint I was using from tubes to the dirt and rocks, working from afar, wrestling with my memory of where I grew up as a child. This past year I moved back to Santa Fe, and I now make much of my paint from the dirt and rocks along the roads we drive or from the arroyo outside my studio. I also work earth pigments from past places we’ve lived or that people have sent me from all around the world into my paintings.
Your work makes reference to the planets, the solar system where we live. It's a very deep spiritual reference. Can you talk a little bit more about it?
When I look at the photographs of the rocks on the surface of Mars I see colors and a landscape that look like the canyons where my mama took me camping when I was little. Much of my work has been a meditation on the sense of feeling at home in a place that looks like another world, a longing for home in color.
About nurturing creativity
I draw inspiration from the dirt and rocks beneath my feet. From the Indigineous peoples of New Mexico, who have been using the land in their artwork for thousands of years. From my boys Wyeth and Whitman, who love to play in the dirt, and are always creating something out of rocks.
About true happiness
Being with my boys, Wyeth and Whitman, and their father, Seth, is my greatest joy. Their love is from another world. We love going camping. I love riding horses. I love placing dirt in my hand and transforming it into a painting that becomes the bodies of my children. The joy of alchemy and transformation.
What is your personal vision about love?
I believe God is love, within us and all around us.
Your relationship with Nature?
The land is my inspiration, where I draw my painting and photography practice from. It is my refuge, the place I return to when I need rest and healing. And I believe it is our responsibility to care for the land, to fight against the countless ways human beings are destroying our planet. This must include voting for those who promise to respect the earth instead of exploit it for their own gain.
Your vision about sustainability and ethics?
Many years ago we made a decision as a family to stop supporting fast fashion. We buy many things second hand at thrift stores, as children grow so fast and small ethical designers can be expensive. But I try to save up for responsibly made things, and buy several sizes too big so they last a few years (the oversized 90s look is in anyway, right?). We invest in a few well made pieces, knowing how we spend our money is part of valuing makers and creatives and part of valuing our earth. But my activism is not just limited to personal choices to use sustainable materials.
While I know that is important, it is even more important to vote out of office those who refuse to hold large corporations accountable for destroying the environment. We will only see large scale improvements for our land and planet if large companies are stopped from destroying the earth, and that requires voting and political action.
Florenz's collection in a few words
I am drawn to Florenz as the pieces are knit sculptures, soft to the touch, and feel weightless while worn
Your next creative steps? What are you looking forward to?
I am working on a new body of work I’ve been dreaming about for almost ten years. I am looking forward to bringing these visions into being.