Stephen St. John and Judy LaBrasca have been working together since 2014. Here they interview each other and make some introductory remarks about their collaboration.
SSJ: Judy is an excellent person and teacher. She is knowledgeable, and it’s seldom that she doesn’t perfect a canvas. She excels at any medium of art and is fun to be around. We decided to answer the same questions.
JLB: I’ve watched Stephen make paintings for more than seven years, and he still surprises me. He always starts from scratch, and I can never predict what will happen. He is fearless about making changes. I’ve learned a lot about art-making from him.
What time of day do you like to work?
SSJ: I enjoy working in the morning because I don’t like to be in a position in which I’m tired because my work will suffer.
JLB: I like the morning light, but I’m easily distracted, so I always seem to finish things at night when I can concentrate better.
Who are your favorite artists? What do you like about their work? When did you first see their work?
SSJ: Van Gogh and Kandinsky. I had the privilege of visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I fell in love. I like their intriguing brushstrokes, which could stand by themselves but are integrated into the whole painting. I first saw Starry Night in a movie in which the painting was featured, hanging on a wall. I was exposed to Kandinsky at the Guggenheim in New York, which was very impressive, and I try to emulate him.
JLB: Vincent van Gogh was my first favorite artist when I was a child, and I still like him best of all. I discovered Egon Schiele’s drawings in a catalog of a show from Galerie St. Etienne when I was in high school, and I felt I’d found a kindred spirit. I saw Violet Oakley’s work at the Philadelphia Academy of Art around the same time. I love her portraits. When I look at Van Gogh’s paintings, I feel like I’m looking over his shoulder while he’s working. The drawings in his letters and the letters themselves are wonderful. Egon Schiele was inspired by Van Gogh’s work, and it seems to me that the work of both artists exists in the moment.
Do you plan ahead or work intuitively?
How do you start a new piece?
SSJ: I start every painting with one solid color, and then, my imagination takes my thoughts over.
JLB: I have to give myself an assignment because I’m interested in too many things, so I narrow it down in order to focus. After that, I like to be surprised.
Do you paint for yourself or an audience? Are you trying to please anyone else?
SSJ: I have to reach the satisfaction of my own thoughts while there are voices in my head simultaneously. I have to reach the requirements that I ask myself: “Is this piece of work wall-worthy?” By reaching that goal, I am satisfied with my work.
JLB: I only try to please myself. I go on the assumption that if I like it, other people will too.
Image at top: Stephen St. John, self-portrait reflected in the glass covering a recent monoprint, 2021.