Stephen Cefalo: Interview with a Contemporary Master
I first met Stephen Cefalo in graduate school at Indiana University. He is a man that defies categories. At first glance based on his attire, you might think he is a punk rocker. Walking down the street with his wife and children (there are at least 5 lol), all you can think is family man. Talking with him for just a moment, you would find him to be humble, soft spoken, and sincere. Sit next to him at a figure drawing session and you will know that you have just met a master.
His pedigree is just as varied. He has studied under the great Steven Assael and Bonnie Sklarski, worked for Nickelodeon on the Rugrats and as an assistant to Jeff Koons. Currently, he is living and working in Little Rock Arkansas.
His work is a fantastic mixture of personal and universal narrative that pays homage to the drama and craft of the old masters yet still feels contemporary. Technically, his years of studying anatomy is revealed in beautifully rendered figures in wonderfully natural poses.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I always drew with an intensity as a kid, and there was never a question to me. I knew this was going to be my thing. I moved from New Jersey to my mom’s hometown in Newburgh, Indiana when I was 7 or 8. My Aunt Marilyn was quite an accomplished traditional painter and sculptor and began training me then. My mom bought me books on figure drawing, composition, color science and theory, and I was hooked for life. Marilyn would take me to the Evansville museum.
What do you love about the process of painting and drawing?
When the elements go right and things begin to click it feels that something apart from myself begins to emerge, like it birthed itself into life and I was merely a part of releasing it. It’s much like the role of a midwife actually, which is my wife’s profession. There is no feeling like when a piece seems to transcend the art supplies it’s made of.
What do you want your audience to experience when they see your work?
When I see something great it sticks in my head and kind of haunts me. I walk around with it back there in my mind and it resurfaces now and then in a sketch or even in a painting. I hope that I can create that kind of resonance in people, like I’ve touched on some hidden memory and even actually become part of a subconscious dialogue. That, I think would be a true aesthetic experience.
Where do you sell your work?
I’m actually between galleries now, but continue to sell locally at Gallery 26 in Little Rock. They do a great job.
Name two of your artistic heroes (one living and one dead)
There are so, so many. Agostino Arrivabene is a recent discovery who has inspired me a great deal. George Frederic Watts comes to mind as far as dead ones go.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist?
Look, look, look at as much great work as you can, and visit every museum in your path. Plan your road trips around them. Carry a sketchbook everywhere and draw constantly without hesitation. Imitate everything that you find greatness in, and finally be nothing but genuine, and let all of your ideas be a natural outgrowth of your experiences. When they start to form by themselves you’ll know you’re on to something.