Reilly Stasienko knew that she wanted to create something from a young age, and the 20-year-old American painter and illustrator has said that her art is her prana, her life force. Stasienko is incredibly prolific, she usually works on multiple pieces at the same time, and posts artwork on Instagram regularly. Additionally, she does design and brand work and plans on experimenting with animation and music in the future. All of this might sound like a lot, but for her, passion and anxiety are simply two different sides of the same coin. Since she first rose to prominence in high school, her work has toed the line between expressionism and surrealism and is inspired by visionary artists Alex and Allyson Grey, Gustav Klimt’s student Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, and abstract figure artists.
Like expressionist and neo-expressionist art, her work seeks out the subjective over the objective and makes use of distortion, exaggeration, and vivid colour harmonies. Like surrealist art, it seamlessly blends the concept of reality with that of the fantastic. Her favourite medium is oil but she also uses ballpoint pens, acrylic, pastel, chalk, and digital tools like Procreate. Stasienko may be young, but she is fast accumulating a vast body of highly contemplative, vivid, and emotional work.
Having been a curious child with an interest in details and influenced by her father’s own interest in art, Stasienko’s need to create something soon bore fruit and has rapidly blossomed in various directions since. Her creations frequently have spirituality interwoven into them, and self-exploration is an important end. The more she creates, the closer she gets to a meditative state of mind, Stasienko has said, “I feel like I’m getting to know my higher/ divine self through art, especially painting. Intimacy grows the more my creative drive grows. Kundalini.” Topics Stasienko ponders over in her paintings include human consciousness, and are metaphysical and existential in nature. These are then held up to the elements of humanity and reality, as notably seen in her self-portraits. In a 2019 self-portrait, Stasienko sits on a couch next to her cat, with some coffee on the floor. There’s no readable expression on her abstract face, but the simple colour palette of black, and dark shades of red and green suggest melancholy and the same kind of reflection that characterises her other work. It can be said that this transforms Stasienko the person into an artwork, but according to her, self-portraits are different because they go further and transcend the barrier between the art and the artist.
With her painting titled “Sword Fight With Self,” she tackles a byproduct of human consciousness: inner turmoil. The brush strokes inside the human figure are almost directional, but they collapse into themselves and go around in circles. The figure, which holds two daggers, is blurred in parts to further suggest restlessness. She does something similar in her 2019 digital illustration “befriend the worms to prevent your decay,” which she calls a study of impermanence. Though abstract, lacking facial features and having purple skin, the falling figure in the middle is distinctly human too, and the possibility that we won’t be here tomorrow or that we will be forgotten are common human worries.
Both of these pieces utilise unusual and sometimes vivid yet jarring colour palettes to convey mood rather than to realistically depict subjects. The former has light pink, yellow, turquoise, and some blue and black. The latter has deep purples and blues juxtaposed with bright yellow and orange. Stasienko has said that colour and space are the most important components for her to consider when making a piece. Her adventurous and unabashed use of colour tends to stand in stark contrast to the distorted but relatively normal settings her subjects are seen in, like living rooms, the beach, and sitting in chairs and couches, where they do things like socialise and sit down for a midnight coffee.
Text is another tool Stasienko employs at times, to humorous effect, to add some social commentary, or to complement the visual in some other way. Her 2020 digital illustration “We Went to A” shows a realistically drawn woman and man, both naked save for orange flowers covering their private parts (though notably not the woman’s breasts). The text near the woman reads, “Eden is under the influence!” and the text pointing at the man reads, “Catholic preoccupation!”. Like many of her paintings, it is composed of the subject in the middle, but the colours are more subdued, except for the yellow in the background and orange used for the flowers. This further emphasises what the focus of the painting is. Most recently, she has used text in a three-part series titled “Social Distancing”. Painting over previous paintings is something Stasienko enjoys doing and did so for this project. The title, “Social Distancing” alludes to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and reimagines prior paintings, but removes the people in them and adds text. Stasienko combines her background in graphic design and digital illustration to give her work the feel of a poster.
With her sheer productivity and enthusiasm for experimentation, it will be interesting to see what Stasienko will be up to next.
Follow Reilly at @reillystasienko