Daniel Stumeier Challenges Perceptions of American (and Rural and Masculine) Identity
We use the word “space” colloquially to mean many different things: the place where planets and stars drift, a physically demarcated area (living space, studio space, practice space), a conceptual qualifier of attitude or outlook (headspace, “I’m in a really weird space”). We often exist in many spaces at once.
Perhaps you’ve uttered words like, “My head’s not here right now” or “My heart is in [insert romantic city of choice].” Or maybe you’ve “gone down a rabbit hole.” And how much time do you spend in cyberspace? While your physical body is in one location, your attention may be a bit trickier to nail down.
We may even find that space is linked to our sense of self or identity. We are American, British, Sudanese. Country girls and city boys. From The County or so very South City. Earthlings. We all have deep connections to the spaces we inhabit, grew up in or have visited.
Daniel Stumeier lives in St. Louis. It’s a different city than the one in which he grew up (but in a sense still very much inhabits): Effingham, Illinois. Much of Stumeier’s work reflects common scenes from rural America. His drawings of pickup trucks, country music artists and wood paneling in the living room are expertly executed images recognizable to most Americans, especially those who live in close proximity to rural areas.
There is a deep level of naturalism in his work. Reflected light and ghosts of objects are observable through the back windshield of a pickup truck. Fabric textures and hairstyles are rendered in staggering accuracy. The technical skill this requires is obvious to the layperson and trained eye alike.
“Drawing is a way to get us to look a little bit closer at something,” Stumeier explains. He has concluded that in a time when the ubiquity of photography has made us often unlikely to regard an image for longer than a moment, a drawing will give viewers pause and maybe create an opening for consideration.
So, what are viewers considering, anyway? What might we to infer from drawings of Reba McIntyre, Garth Brooks or bumper stickers on pickup truck windshields? In this period of division between cosmopolitan and insular, when so much of our society seems bifurcated ideologically and politically, is this a critique of rural culture or simply a factual representation?
“By drawing these images in an almost documentary style, I present them to an audience in a way that they can see them with some level of objectivity,” Stumeier says. That’s not to say there isn’t humor or critique in his work. But a critique of what? If there’s a joke, what is the viewer’s relationship to it?
Stumeier is a cosmopolitan guy. His work is not prescriptive or preachy. He doesn’t completely fit into the Effingham culture, insomuch as it’s difficult to picture him in a pickup truck emblazoned with bumper stickers advertising sporting gear as an avenue to salvation. The quiet surroundings of the South Grand coffee shop we’ve met in seem a better fit for him. Yet his understanding allows him to inhabit both spaces.
A well-read artist, Stumeier appreciates, understands and considers the context of his—and other artists’—work in a broad cultural sense. And this is where we come to his cross-stitch replicas of Jackson Pollock paintings. To many (myself included), this seems a major shift from drawings of country music stars and truck nuts. But to Stumeier, the connection is clear—and the work itself makes a compelling case.
Pollock’s relationship to, or embodiment of, American masculinity has been thoroughly documented and interpreted. If any artist were to fit the mold of a heartland guy, it would be Pollock, and Stumeier has cleverly turned that idea on its head.
“Pollock is a very masculine persona,” Stumeier says. “I’m interested in taking his large paintings and shifting them to a domestic scale; taking his energetic, almost violent gestures and deliberately stitching them; and taking this very masculine thing and re-appropriating it through embroidery, which has traditionally been viewed as women’s work and craft rather than art.”
Stumeier’s work does not exist to tell us what to think about Jackson Pollock, Reba McEntire, blue collar America or the place of cities in the American cultural landscape. It reminds viewers who may be trying hard to make sense of and answer questions about the world around us that we sometimes forget to make understanding the priority. Maybe the value is in the question, rather than the answer.
By reflecting a culture most people either live every day or spend much of their time ignoring, Stumeier’s drawings, cross-stitches, upcoming installations and artist book raise a multitude of questions about space, American and personal identity and the links between them. People of all spaces, identities and ideological orientation will find something of value in Stumeier’s work.
Daniel Stumeier’s current solo exhibition “Twang” is on view through Oct. 10 at the William and Florence Schmidt Art Center on the Belleville campus of Southwestern Illinois College. Stumeier’s next show opens at Monaco on Cherokee Street Oct. 18 and runs through Nov. 15.
Featured image: “Truck 2 (Goodwill, Effingham, IL),” 2019, graphite, 6.25 by 6.25 inches, courtesy of Daniel Stumeier. All photography by Jamie Kreher.