You may have seen Leah Stella Stephens before. In fact, if you were in Pacific Beach recently, you may have encountered her trying to hand you a ham sandwich. And while the beach-going bros and babes may have dismissed her as some nutter trying to poison them with anthrax-laced pig rump, there's a method to Stephens' madness. She was doing it as an artistic experiment. She just wanted to see if someone, anyone, would just simply take a ham sandwich from a stranger. There were no takers.
And it was that kind of artistic experiment that inspired this week's cover image, “Birds Are Crying,” as well as three other Frida Kahlo-inspired digitally manipulated pictures that can be seen on her Behance.net site (www.behance.net/curiositydesigner). Stephens says she's never been particularly drawn to Kahlo in the same way other people are, but a recent experience in North Park led her to take portraits of herself looking like the beloved Mexican artist.
About a year ago, my aunt sewed me this apron called the ‘postcard apron,' so my idea was to go out into the world as the patron saint of postcards. I was wearing pretty much what you see in the picture minus the mono-brow and I would sell postcards to people.” The selling part didn't really work out, so she ended up wandering around and having strange interactions with people who were reacting to the way she looked.
“I had these birds in my hair, and soon people kept saying, ‘There's Frida Kahlo!' I just got so tired of people saying that that I said, ‘Fine, I'll be Frida Kahlo for a week.”
She added backdrops to the portraits, both real and digitally manipulated. The backdrop in “Birds Are Crying” was actually someone's yard in Encinitas. That piece, and much of her other work, is inspired by her love of nature, which can be traced back to her early life living in the woods in Independence, Mo. But that love often adds to the shock of viewing the picture for the first time.
'My biggest influences are nature and absurdity. I like the natural forms, but I also like the absurdity of the human experience.” She later adds, “I think people are shocked, because I don't really hide stuff. I don't have the filters in place that most people do. So, as far as my art work goes, whatever the first impulse is I go with it. I don't reflect and think, ‘I wonder how people are going to take this?' I just go with it like a dream. I don't question my imagery, because to me that would be fake art.”